The gaze of the salesperson

When you look at a person from behind the viewfinder of your camera, you sometimes find an appraising gaze looking back at you. Such eyes belong to people who make a living by selling. I like long zooms for such photos, because you can see the initial appraisal still going on. The featured photo is of two auto drivers in Ujjain, a really ancient temple town. For about two thousand years the locals have made a living from the people who pass through. The best salesmen survive; others move away.

A colonial-era town in Myanmar may not have quite the same history of trade, but the calculation behind the cheerful call of the women trying to sell you a snack is clear. As you can see in this photos, their eyes appraise you, and the smile switches off the moment it is clear that you are not buying.

A walk through pre-Diwali street markets is always productive. In this photo, the young man, probably a recent arrival to Mumbai, is still trying to figure out whether a man with a camera is a likely target for a sales patter about fluffy toys. I wouldn’t have bought one, but I’m more excited by the neon pandas than the plush pikachu.

This photo of a man in Jodhpur’s market is one of my favourites. He’s pretty sure that I’m not part of this target demographic, but he’s still interested in figuring me out. I probably fall at some borderline between the various categories of tourists who visit the town.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. You make an interesting point about the change in a salesperson’s expression when they realise you’re not likely to buy from them! This is a great set of images to illustrate your point – I especially like that last one from Jodhpur 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting observations I.J. I’ve seen some of the same things during my travels although I’ve not been to India. The happy smile that turns to a glare or frown as it’s determined there will be no sale is, I think, universal! In actual stores it’s a bit less glaring as they hope you may return another day. Excellent portraits of the vendors, especially the last, who surely does not look very welcoming!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting!
    I’m not a sales person but being a one who buys items from shops or street vendors, I agree with you that it is all about the first eye contact.
    Just one look into the eyes and they gauge us as a potential buyer or just an onlooker.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The smile that can be switched off instantly seems to be a speciality in S.E. Asian countries, I’ve found it in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, but while it’s there, it makes ne feel good, so I forgive them, always. It’s a tough life trying to persuade people to buy stuff they don’t have a need for, but we all have to make a living somehow. I remember being told in Jordan that my buying or not buying from an itinerant – and annoying – seller, would make all the difference to whether or not his family ate that night. It helped put things in perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

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