Romani portraits
November 15, 2007 4:26 PM   Subscribe

The Roma Journeys - contemporary photographs of Roma life in Hungary, India, Greece, Romania, France, Russia, and Finland by Joakim Eskildsen. For more photo essays and info on the Roma, see two superb prior posts by plep and taz.
posted by madamjujujive (26 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
These are jaw-dropping, absolutely stunning photos. Thank you so much for posting this.
posted by Pecinpah at 4:45 PM on November 15, 2007

The clothes are interesting. Roma here (in Finland) express very strong identity by how they dress -- which differs greatly from main population -- but it is surprising that this style is so different from other countries' Roma people. I thought there would be more common between them.

I have never had such still calm moments with Roma as in these pictures. There is always weird territorial tension between us. Both parties are keen to not be noticed by other, but also too proud to back off. It is weird to be let in amongst them through these photos.
posted by Free word order! at 5:23 PM on November 15, 2007

Amazing photographs. Thanks mjj
posted by Eekacat at 5:35 PM on November 15, 2007

Wow. Wow. These are excellent portraits and photo-documentation. Thanks so much for posting this.

It is weird to be let in amongst them through these photos.

Indeed, it's quite something that this photographer could get as intimately involved in Roma life as to be able to take pictures like these. There's a MeFier I know personally (an American) who lives in Hungary, and while not Roma himself, he is one of those rare folk who have over the years had dealings and interactions with Roma people there, and, I believe, in Romania, Bulgaria etc. I hope he'll see this post and chime in with a comment or two. Are you out there, zaelic?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2007

my breath literally caught in my chest for a second when i looked at that photo on the homepage. great, great stuff.
posted by blendor at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2007

Fantastic. And I too hope zaelic will show up.
posted by languagehat at 6:14 PM on November 15, 2007

Simply amazing photos. I've studied Rom culture quite a lot, and after Hungarian and Romanian (both of which I am working on), I will endeavor to learn Romanes. The hatred and distrust of the Rom always amazed me, even in my own country, as my experiences and interactions have always been positive.

I liked this quote from the site: "The more we found out about the Roma and got to know them, the more our interest in and liking for them grew." Simple but true.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:42 PM on November 15, 2007

Many thanks for sharing madamjujujive. The photographs are magnificent. So much to see.
posted by Sailormom at 6:53 PM on November 15, 2007

Really enjoyed Joakim Eskildsen's photographs, all of them on that site. He has an affinity for depicting rawness very personally, layers of decay in the Roma environment, their poverty, the real starkness of their lives and then their intense characters amid all this. There's a desolation he captures, a sense of their being outsiders and also not letting others in, a tribal feeling too. Wonderful, complex photographs. There's the sultry aspect...they're rich in texture and color.

This one is unusual because there is almost surreal happiness in it..seems like it was taken 100 years ago. It's one of my favorites, loved the painting of the wall and ceiling, a relaxed repose.
posted by nickyskye at 8:11 PM on November 15, 2007

Great photographs, but the inclusion of a set of photos from India sets my teeth on edge - yes, the Roma originate from a population that left India, but they are defined by their experiences in Europe. The Indian fixation serves only to further a sense of exoticism, both to those who hate Gypsies and would like to suggest they "go back to India" and to those who find photograhs of modern Rajastani caste nomads and artisans really perks up a book full of photos of desparately poor people in drab surroundings. If the nomadic groups in India are Roma, ipso facto everybody in India is a Gypsy. But it just ain't so.

If we look at the Romani language carefully, it would seem that whatever group left India speaking early Romani, they didn't leave any particularly clear-cut remnant behind to which you can trace the language after about 1300 years, which is not much in linguistics.

I'm giving a talk in Poland next week on how the expectations of the World Music market have formed and affected contemporary European views of Roma people, particularly the attraction to exoticism. In my personal experiences, after spending a few weeks among Roma I hardly find exotic the word to describe my experiences. They can be a tough and frustrating bunch of folk to hang around with (the same is true of just about any defined group of people, though.) If you hang long enough to learn the language your perceptions will change, but that makes them even less exotic.

A Roma journalist acquaintance of mine was once asked to help translate the word "society" into Romani for the purpose of translating EU documents into Romani. There isn't any such term. You can say "so kerel e Rome" or "So kerel e Gaje" ("what the Roma do" vs. "What the Gajos do") My Raoma friend shrugged and said "What can you do with a language where there are three separate terms for different kinds of farts, but no abstract term for the concept of "society."
posted by zaelic at 9:26 PM on November 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

Speak of the devil! Thanks for the insight, zaelic, I knew you'd have something interesting to say.

They can be a tough and frustrating bunch of folk to hang around with...

I'm thinking back the Gypsy market you took me to years ago, in Budapest, and that was one heavy vibe, I gotta say.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:35 PM on November 15, 2007

Awwww, flapjax... you remember!

I used to go down there three times a week while it was operating to practice my Romani (before it closed in 1993.) The guys in the big hats - Gaboreşte Gypsies from Romania (self-link warning) - used to sit me down and give me formal lessons in "how to behave among the Roma." Nowadays the Gaborii sing funky Seventh Day Adventist gospel music.
posted by zaelic at 9:58 PM on November 15, 2007

Josef Koudelka did a book on the Roma in 1975: Gypsies.

The Gypsy pictures are dark, brooding, disjunctive, tinged with tenderness and sorrow. Years later, he said, he met some Gypsies on a pilgrimage and told them he'd done a book on their people: 'We know,' they said. `We call you Iconar. We have the book. It's been cut apart and put in a chapel. We pray for the people in them'.

via languagehat and the nyt
posted by sushiwiththejury at 10:45 PM on November 15, 2007

Here are some pictures of Roma in Slovenia; actually a family that was driven out of their village last year.

Great post, mj3.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:17 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

My neighbor has been taking photographs of Roma in Kosovo, Macedonia, etc.
posted by romanb at 12:47 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fantastic photography. Usually Mefi disappoints with links to very mediocre photography, but this is truly excellent, the composition, texture, colors and shadows are lovely.
posted by Poagao at 2:07 AM on November 16, 2007

Great contributions.

Ljubljana, romanb and sushiwiththejury, thank you both for those excellent links to photographers. Ljubljana, that story is a heartbreaker; the blog it is on is a good find, too. Romanb, those Meiko Herrmann Roma photos are so excellent, as are all the other photo essays. Sushiwiththejury, thanks for the pointers to Koudelka's work!

And zaelic, I loved your Gypsy market post - and how it is I never found your blog before, it's quite wonderful!
posted by madamjujujive at 5:40 AM on November 16, 2007

Magnificent work. Thanks for posting this.
posted by jquinby at 7:54 AM on November 16, 2007

Some great photos here, too:

He's the fellow who took the photo for Isabel Fonseca's "Bury Me Standing."

And thanks to Zaelic for his excellent post in pointing out the "disconnect" between the Roma and any number of nomadic artisan groups in India. That's problematic for me, too, but it doesn't seem to bother many otherwise self-aware Roma I know, who appreciate the "link," however inaccurate. Just saw that Tony Gatlif film "Latcho Drom" a few weeks ago again, and it appears he fosters this connection too.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2007

Gatlif, in Latcho Drom, woud also have us believe that Gypsies live in trees in Slovakia... Roma and Jews are two peoples who have actually had to suffer from inane stereotypes which are presented as their "culture" by outsiders. I particularly liked the portrayal of a Roma father and son in "Gadjo Dilo" who spoke two entirely different forms of Romani - sort of like Dad speaks Spanish and Son speaks Portuguese. Or a traditional minded Kalderash woman (played by a Gaji) who can't wait to run around naked and jump in bed with a sympathetic gajo having a very bad hair day. I watched the film with a 73 year old Rom musician from Romania - he loved the fact that the dialogue was in Romani, but he almost wet himself laughing at the portrayals of Roma life. (He's the guy playing cimbalom in the opening scenes of Gatlif's new film "Transylvania")

Streotypes and half-baked "ethnographic" portrayals serve to present an exotic "Other" to artists who are enthralled by the idea of the "wild man" existing in tame Western culture. Since they are seen as wild and innocently "childish" they are expected to need the help of experienced spokeperson to present the case that they live in trees.... sheesh!

Don't get me started on Gatlif... watch Transylvania and the cultural disconnects get really bizzare.
posted by zaelic at 10:11 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Didn't mean to rile you up, Zaelic! I'm with you 100%. Haven't seen Transylvania, though by chance I noticed it's on Sundance this month:

Friday November 23rd 4:15PM | Tuesday November 27 2:15PM

(Not sure what time zone, probably Eastern.)

I'll undoubtedly see it, if for no other reason than to see the scenery and to look for discrepancies between what's depicted and what I know to be reality, although I'm sure I'll miss a lot. From the preview you linked to, it looks like a dub version of "Gadjo Dilo." I'd love to come across more authentic portrayals of this part of the world (not just of Roma), but right now I toil away like mad for nine months, in order to go over there and study language for three months each year. If you've got any suggestions, please let me know.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:46 AM on November 16, 2007

A very good film about the Roma in the US is Angelo My Love, which was produced as an experiment by Robert Duvall in 1983 after meeting with a young Rom kid living on his street in Greenwich Village. After gaining the trust of the families, Duvall had the Gypsies act and write the script as they went. It winds up being a credible portrait of Rom life in 1980s New York... as they saw themselves. And it's all on Youtube in installments!

And just saying, but Eskildsen is a fantastic photographer...
posted by zaelic at 12:51 PM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

Very nifty. Thanks
posted by Smedleyman at 3:35 PM on November 16, 2007

This is such a nice post and I am glad I found out about zaelic's blog. Growing up in Greece I am very familiar with Roma people, their customs, their music and the discrimination that have been enduring, even until today.

Here is another photographic journal: Roma people across Europe, gitans, gypsies, roms, manouches. Romas all the way to Texas.
posted by carmina at 11:29 AM on November 19, 2007

Oh and I also forgot to mention Times of the Gypsies, a visually compelling film by Emil Kusturica about the life of a group of gypsies in Sarajevo. I am aware that it probably perpetuates certain stereotypes of "tsigane" culture, but it did also use Romany actors and musicians.
posted by carmina at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2007

Wow, carmina, thanks so much for stopping in to add a link to that great journal - awesome photos. And thanks for the info about the film, I will have to hunt that down.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:47 PM on November 19, 2007

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