Read the interview with Cia Rinne on The Roma Journeys. Research and compare Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies and Joakim Eskildsen’s The Roma Journeys. Discuss aspects to do with the photographer’s intention and the distinctive aesthetics and approach of each body of work.
(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 65)
Joakim Eskildsen’s The Roma Journeys is divided into groupings by the countries he and Cia Rinne visited in order to make this project: Hungary, India, Greece, Romania, France, Russia, Finland. Each section begins with three B&W panoramas (not necessarily landscapes) and reverts to colour in a 3:2 aspect ratio thereafter. I understand the sectioning of the countries for comparison purposes, but why the B&W panoramas? Perhaps these images serve as the unifying threads in his book linking the different communities.
In an interview with Joel Colberg of Conscientious Magazine he acknowledges that there are about 500 images in his book, so we only see a smattering of the images on his website and don’t really get the full impact of the work. Each country’s chapter has its own colour palette and Eskildsen made a conscious effort to repeat colours on facing pages. He states in the Colberg interview that grays and blues kept cropping up when he was photographing in Finland and likewise one can see that ochre shades dominant the colour palette in the chapter on Hungary.
Koudelka connected to the gypsies via his love of music. He would record their music in order to gain their confidence. Unlike The Roma Journeys, Koudelka’s Gypsies is in B&W. The photos are grainy, intensely expressive, have high contrasts and are simultaneously confrontational and sad. As Sean O’Hagan (2008) states: “there is … a sadness the Portuguese call saudade” in Koudelka’s work. Indeed one can almost hear the strains of the fado music through the pages of this book.
In his interview with O’Hagan, Koudelka states that he “photographs only something that has to do with [him]” (O’Hagan, 2008). I think both photographers demonstrate a certain degree of ‘insiderness’, but Koudelka’s images reflect a different level of intimacy with the gypsy population than Eskildsen’s photos. Koudelka’s photos contain a certain rawness that is absent in Eskildsen’s work – perhaps this has to do with the use of colour on Eskildsen’s part. I also think that Koudelka’s non-use of captions, and Eskildsen usage of them (he often names his subjects and places) serve to either estrange or familiarise the viewers respectively. Although Koudelka’s photos were taken between 1962 and 1971, there is a timeless quality about the images and “he shows the Gypsies as perpetual outsiders, and their lives as a primal mix of glee and wonder, sorrow and mystery” (Koudelka, s.d.), which in turn is a bit of a self-reflection of Koudelka himself as his own child describes him as a nomad (O’Hagan, 2008). With Koudelka, there is no ulterior motive or intention accompanying his work. He himself states that he only photographs what interests him, not analysing why, while Eskildsen and Rinne invested a great deal of time and trouble learning languages so that they could communicate with the different Roma communities while living with them. Eskildsen and Rinne’s work extends across seven countries and various Roma communities, all of whom are culturally different, but all of whom are still treated as outsiders as they always have been.
It is extremely interesting in looking at how photographers approach a similar subject and come away with such different interpretations.
Colberg, J. (2008) ‘A Conversation with Joakim Eskildsen’ In: Conscientious 03/2008 At: http://www.joakimeskildsen.com/files/texts%20pdf/06colberg.pdf
Eskildsen, J. (2008) The Roma Journeys. At: http://www.joakimeskildsen.com/default.asp?Action=Menu&Item=113 (Accessed 27/10/2019).
Gypsies by Josef Koudelka (2014) Directed by Book Flip. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltPZd9EeQyo (Accessed 27/10/2019).
Josef Koudelka (2014) Directed by The Art of Photography. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVNZNi8gXp8 (Accessed 27/10/2019).
Kim, E. (s.d.) 8 Rare Insights From an Interview with Josef Koudelka at Look3. At: https://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/06/18/insights-from-a-rare-interview-with-josef-koudelka-at-look3/ (Accessed 27/10/2019).
Koudelka, J. (s.d.) Koudelka’s “Gypsies” at the Image festival Amman. At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/events/event/josef-koudelka-gypsies-image-festival-amman/ (Accessed 27/10/2019).
O’Hagan, S. (2008) ‘Sean O’Hagan meets photographer Josef Koudelka who captured the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague’ In: The Observer 23/08/2008 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/aug/24/photography (Accessed 27/10/2019).
Open College of the Arts (2014) Photography 2: Documentary-Fact and Fiction (Course Manual). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Słaboń, Krzysztof (2008) Interview with Cia Rinne on the Roma project At: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/ciarinne.pdf