This Is What Small Businesses Look Like Around The World

Photographer Vladimir Antaki’s new book The Guardians explores the unique and curious spaces where passion becomes business.

Jainul Abedin, newsstand vendor in New York City.

Shopping has never been as easy as it is today through online retailers like Amazon and Alibaba. According Statista, an estimated 2.14 billion people worldwide are expected to shop online by the year 2021. But with this newfound ease of access to 24-hour online shopping, it’s also become increasingly difficult for local entrepreneurs and artisans to compete with online mega-retailers.

Photographer Vladimir Antaki has traveled the world to document the unique and curious spaces where passion becomes business. His new book The Guardians, published by Kehrer Verlag, is a collection of portraits from his journeys that capture shopkeepers in their places of work. What’s revealed is something that can’t be bought or sold online — humanity.

Here, Antaki shares with BuzzFeed News a selection of portraits from The Guardians and his words on how the project came to be.

The way people shop has changed considerably over the past 20 years, and the internet has redefined all the rules. If you can shop faster and cheaper from the comfort of your own home, then why would someone refrain from doing it?

Mom and pop shops can’t compete with this kind of strike force. And because the trade is less valued than it used to be, these shops get less business. Meanwhile, rents continue to rise due to growing gentrification, resulting in small businesses feeling the pressure and being forced to close. Several stories featured in my book confirm that this is a global issue.

This is what inspired me to make these shops more visible — by giving a voice to the shopkeepers. I believe in the power of a beautiful picture. People become curious when they see my pictures — they stop and ask questions.

Henri Launay, doll doctor in Paris.

Random encounters are also a big part of my creative process. I like to think of each city as a maze in which I enjoy getting lost and finding “treasures.”

My approach for The Guardians is based on a principle of hazardous perambulation: I believe that having no benchmark and entering spontaneously in these urban temples enforces the serendipitous encounters. It’s my main goal to make these people look majestic in their own environment.

Robert Perry, bar owner in Philadelphia.

The first portrait was taken in New York in the summer of 2012. While waiting for my train at Times Square, 42nd Street, I saw a man with an imposing posture working in a newsstand. No one was really paying attention to him. Maybe it was just New York, but no one seems to notice anything anymore.

I snapped a first picture of him, then a second one, wrote down his email address, and took my train. It was only a few months later, after documenting a few shopkeepers in Montréal and Paris, that the project within this book was born.

Mario Antonio Hernández Escamilla, sculptor and restorationist in Mexico.

Each portrait is also taken within the first few minutes of our encounter, stranger to stranger. A very important aspect of my work is that my audience can identify with the look given by the Guardian (the subject) and connect with them on a human level.

My encounter with Mario Antonio Hernández Escamilla in Mexico City, for example, was a pretty special one. When I met Don Mario, he seemed aggravated and needed to vent. I let him talk for nearly 45 minutes before I was able to convince him to let me take his picture. This is when I realized that his knowledge, that was passed down from father to son for 12 generations, was going to disappear with him. That touched me deeply.

It is my hope that the aesthetics of my pictures will catch the eye of more people and make them curious about the stories behind the photos, to the point that they change their consumer behaviors and help keep these shops open as long as possible.

David French, antique dealer in London.

As a child, I would often befriend the local shopkeepers and get lost in their beautiful and intriguing world. Watching them disappear one after the other really makes me sad, and I feel it is my duty as an artist to pay tribute to them by capturing their urban temples and to help preserve their memories by sharing their stories.

Knowing that the knowledge of some of my Guardians will disappear when they’re gone makes me really sad. This book is my gift to them and to everyone who remembers and wishes to remember.

Bill Kasper aka The Birdman, music store owner in New York City.

Mehmet Öztekin, gramophone repairer in Istanbul.

Marie Gagné, antique dealer in Montréal.

“Baba” Conrad Sarr, shoeshiner in Paris.

Habouba Ishac, sewer in Beirut.

Curtis Anthony, bicycle dealer in Philadelphia.

Denise Acabo, chocolatier in Paris.

Dominique “Ménick” Perazzino, barber in Montréal.

To see more of Vladimir Antaki's work or to pick up your copy of The Guardians, visit

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