IRina Wearing had to buy new batteries for her camera flash that day. The Buenos Aires-based photographer first tried her local store, but the price was way too high. I went to an office supply store, a corner store, a kiosk, a hardware store, and another supermarket. This small mission has become an expedition to circumvent soaring prices in a country where inflation is expected to triple by next year – among the highest in the world.
“You get used to it. Since I was born, there has been hypertrophy, even since before my dad was born. It’s part of our daily life it’s inside of us.” from two numbers; On average, this represents an inflation rate of 80% each year.”
A simple shopping trip that turns into an hour-long quest to find the best deals is just one of the ways Werning learned to navigate life in Argentina. The country is experiencing its highest annual inflation rate in 30 years, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, shrinking global food supplies, rising energy costs, and the economic fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine. These shock waves are being felt all over the world. In July, the UK inflation rate doubled to For the first time in 40 years, by 10.1%, which puts more pressure on families trying to adjust to rising costs. On September 22, the Bank of England warned that the British economy was now in a recession, and Raising interest rates to 2.25%. To tackle high inflation, but after the government’s mini-budget, financial markets now expect rates to reach 6%.
As the rest of the world is forced to deal with soaring prices, no major economy understands how to manage life with inflation better than Argentina. It is a fact that Argentines have lived through for the past half century. Even today, the country’s central bank continues to print money to cover the unrelenting fiscal deficit, while owing billions of dollars to the International Monetary Fund.
Wearing, who lives in the capital with her husband and two daughters, studied economics before becoming a photographer.
“I thought I would never get my degree, but I came back to Argentina from the UK and use it every day, all the time,” she says.
As Werning has seen more and more countries hit by sudden inflation this year, she is beginning to create a series of photos showing how Argentines have learned to live with financial uncertainty. “The rest of the world is experiencing inflation, and I feel that in terms of economic terms, with 10% or 100% inflation the results are the same. The mechanisms to protect yourself, the things you have to do to change consumer habits, negotiating your salary while it goes down in value The real ones, they’re all the same,” she says.
She wanted to tell the story of how inflation happens in real terms, like stocking up on products when you find better deals, always taking extra cash with you if you find a good discount, or trading your car for a bike.
She tells the story by capturing her friends and family and their struggles with money. “Like the way the English talk about the weather, we talk about inflation every day with strangers, with friends, with family, in the queue at the supermarket. It’s part of our daily lives.
The images are colorful and playful – a way of making economic concepts easier to access – but the sense of inequality and suffering is astounding. Four out of 10 Argentines live below the poverty line, and during the pandemic, it is estimated that 60% of children were living in poverty. She says, “What happens is the worst that can happen to society, as the most vulnerable become more vulnerable, and the rich get richer. Who wants to live in a society like this?”
Argentines have a complex and unique relationship with money. The country operates almost entirely on physical cash – paper money that has become worthless. There is little trust in the banks and people store their money under their mattresses or in safe deposit boxes. Mostly, they will try to spend their peso once they get it. “It feels like money is burning in your hands,” Wearing says. “That’s weird, because you’re poorer in real terms, but you’re trying to spend all the time protecting yourself from inflation.”
To protect their money, many high-paid people generally change the peso to US dollars as soon as they get paid, or any currency that depreciates below the peso. Most of these interactions take place on the black market, where about 50% of the country operates. The official exchange rate is 147 pesos to 1 dollar; Wearing says the rates on the black market average 290 pesos.
The paper money seems so meaningless that Werning’s husband, in one photo, sticks 10 peso bills on the wall, because banknotes are cheaper than buying wallpaper. In another, a US dollar bill depicted the face of Heath Ledger as the Joker by Argentine artist Sergio Diaz. Through his work, he seeks to re-evaluate legal tender by turning it into art. “It came from the idea that art saves the world, in which case art will save us from inflation,” Diaz explains.
Werning also captures Lara, 29, who works in a beauty shop where she works as a union actress. Lara sits nude, flaunting her tattoos, and wears a daring headpiece with stunning makeup staring at the camera. Her monthly salary is around 140,000 pesos (£880). In front of her, she covers her nipples. The image evokes a sense of power – trade unions have a lot of weight in Argentina because they negotiate salaries twice a year to keep up with rising prices. But by presenting Lara naked, Werning tries to show the vulnerability that all Argentines feel.
She says it is a warning to the rest of us. Living with this financial fragility leaves people extremely vulnerable to forces beyond their control. “This is how we feel with inflation, we are vulnerable. The more vulnerable you are, the worse it is,” she says.