What is so distinct in these kids’ photographs that makes them so compelling, so important to see?
The kids didn’t strive to adhere to any preconceived notions of what it means to be Roma. I know this is an issue a little distant for American culture, where “Gypsy” is a synonym of exotic. But in Europe, people who disagree with the widespread discrimination Roma people face most often try to counter the negative stereotypes by offering positive stereotypes in their place. And this is just as wrong; it can be just as restrictive and oppressive.
I struggled initially, to begin with, with the issue of poverty and how kids will include it in their images. They knew these pictures were made so other people would look at them, which for them meant the unsightly needed to be hidden and only what conformed with the mainstream idea of life had to be put forward. I tried to balance my intention to let kids define themselves the way they wanted with the suggestion that featuring poverty wasn’t just honest depiction of their real life but also could be presented beautifully and with dignity. I didn’t want them to follow the cheap, sappy stereotype of Gypsy poverty that would move their audience, yet I wanted them to believe in the dignity of the way they lived.
My kids didn’t know usual cliches of how Gypsy life had to be presented and the pictures they made reflected a world so similar to the mainstream – and surprising at the same time. They wanted to talk about love, showing off their baby chick pets, their homes that looked not exotic or poor, but “normal”. Girls wanted to appear beautiful, boys – tough.
At this point, I am just wondering how the public will react to their great pictures. Will people be disappointed that they are not seeing the drama they expect of “Gypsy life”? Or will they finally recognize that these kids lives are not that different from their own, after all? I’ll be looking forward to the reviews!
If you want to see a bigger selection of the work, the website for the project is Treto Oko.