Exercise: The Roma Journeys & Gypsies

Brief:

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.

Bibliography

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

 

Exercise: Paul Close’s Environmental Portraits

For this exercise we are to look at Paul Close’s environmental portraits of his The Snakebox Odyssey project and analyse his visual style. We are also to consider whether the images work as documentary photographs and, if so, why.

(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 64)

I found Paul Close’s Snakebox Odyssey project quite refreshing to look at. The name of the project, incidentally, originates from an African jack-in-the-box type toy which he bought in Kenya and had given his daughter to play with. Close travelled via motorcycle across Africa, photographing at least one person a day. Using a spinnaker sailcloth as a background for all his photos, he photographed his subjects out in the open in their own environments. He asked one question of all his subjects, namely: “Is there one thing that could make your life better?” and their answers form the captions to his photos. The subjects are identified by name and GPS coordinates are given in order to remove any preconceptions that might occur if specific countries or cities were mentioned. Also below each individual image is a map of Africa with a tiny route map that hints at the location. Interestingly, although not really surprising, all the subjects want better education, health, peace, love and a brighter future for their children. There is no real difference between the desires of “us” and the “others”.

There is something rather surreal about using a white backdrop in an outdoor setting. This serves to remove or set apart the individual who is the subject of the photograph, even though he/she is being photographed alongside friends or family members, thereby drawing attention to him/her and the statement made. At the same time this “difference” draws the viewer’s attention to the environment. Richard Avedon also made use of a white backdrop in his American West series, but his series lack the dignity and respect that is evident in Close’s work and all Avedon’s subjects were removed from any possible environmental clues and this ensured a very definite distinction being made by the viewer of “them” and “us”. Close’s project aligns quite well with The Desire Project by Les Monaghan, but again I find Close’s environmental portraits come across on a more personal level. Perhaps this has something to do with photographing them in their own surroundings, and not in a sterile shopping mall. Notwithstanding Close’s efforts to emphasize the common wishes for a better future (that exist between subjects and viewers), there is still an element of the tourist gaze being played out in viewing his photos. We do make contrasts between the subjects’ lives/housing/work environment and our own, and our gaze is further affected by our own gender, ethnicity, age and class and for those reasons alone his images work as documentary photographs.

 

Bibliography

Close, P. (s.d.) Snakebox — Paul Close Photography. At: http://www.paul-close.com/snakebox/1bp1q3yjtv001ix52w807p8716wywo (Accessed  27/10/2019).

Insight-Visual (s.d.) Insight-Visual Photography : Paul Close – Exhibition. At: http://www.insight-visual.com/paul-exhibition.html (Accessed  27/10/2019).

Open College of the Arts (2014) Photography 2: Documentary-Fact and Fiction (Course Manual). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Pantall, C. (2009) Colin Pantall’s blog: Paul Close: Snakebox Odyssey. At: http://colinpantall.blogspot.com/2009/09/paul-close-snakebox-odyssey.html (Accessed  27/10/2019).

The Desire Project | Les Monaghan (s.d.) At: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-desire-project.html (Accessed  27/10/2019).

Illustrations

Figure 1. Close, P. (s.d.) Philbert Onzi: An improvement in agriculture here, giving more jobs. At: http://www.paul-close.com/snakebox/yklp0pqgmqkpzr0dlpvg2rbyia8fsm (Accessed on 27 October 2019)

Exercise: The Tourist Gaze – John Urry & Jonas Larsen

We are asked to read the first chapter The Tourist Gaze by John Urry. I have a later, revised edition of this chapter so have used that for the purposes of this exercise. In a nutshell this lengthy chapter covers the importance of tourism, how the consumption of these goods and services lend themselves to pleasurable experiences that demonstrate that the tourist gaze is a socially organized and systematised practice.

Tourist professionals help to construct the tourist gaze by creating scenarios, viewing platforms which serve to direct what they want the tourist to see, how they wish them to see and what they are allowed to see. Urry and Larsen provide a synopsis of various theories (Boorsin) about the ‘pseudo-events’ where tour groups are organized to visit local attractions and industries (e.g. local coffee producers, tequila tastings, pirate ship excursions). Many of these types of attractions have been ‘recreated’ especially for the tourist industry and are not really authentic experiences. They are staged. I tend to agree with this analysis, especially where it concerns the American (dare I expand that to North American?) tourists who prefer to have tours laid on for them so that they can rush through their destination of choice and “experience” everything, yet don’t want to venture out and do anything too local such as eating a traditional breakfast (no – bring on the bacon, eggs, pancakes and hash browns please).

Juneau, Alaska © 2014 Lynda Kuit

MacCannell challenges this view slightly stating that these ‘pseudo-events’ result from the social relations of tourism and not from an individualistic search for the inauthentic. Instead he compares the tourist with a modern day pilgrim looking for authenticity in other ‘times’ and ‘places’. If the institutions (hotels, tour operators etc.) are controlling the way the tourist sees the sights/sites how can this be an authentic experience? These sights/sites are driven and maintained to ensure maximum profits for the tourism industry and therefore the tourist gaze has to be manipulated in order to achieve this.

Bruner highlights different meanings of what is meant by ‘authentic’ by using the example of a town or building. Something could look as if it is old, but is actually newly constructed; it could actually date from a specific period; or be deemed to be authentic by a Trust or heritage society. Turner expands on the analysis of the pilgrimage. In his analysis there are three stages:

  • social/spatial separation – the removal of oneself from usual place of residence of work [I suppose this would be the trip]
  • liminality – where one finds oneself out of regular time and place and away from conventional social ties experiencing something different [the holiday]
  • reintegration – the return to the regular social group (work/home), usually with a slightly elevated status

I find it quite interesting that the actual holiday is in a liminal space between the realities of leaving and returning to one’s real life. Would this not emphasis the inauthentic experience that the tourist has whilst on holiday?

Tourist gazes are organized by different discourses: health, education, group solidarity, heritage and memory, pleasure and play as well as nation. In turn these discourses imply different socialities:

  • romantic gaze (which is private and sometimes solitary)
  • collective gaze (large numbers of tourists attend the sight/site, indicating that it is the trending place to visit)
  • spectatorial gaze (the way things are seen in passing at a glance, as out of a bus’ window)
  • reverential gaze (how sacred sights are spiritually consumed)
  • anthropological gaze (looking something and interpreting it with historical context)
  • environmental gaze (looking at tourist practices and determining their impact on the environment)
  • mediatised gaze (visiting sites made famous by film and television)
  • family gaze (tourist photography revolves around photographically recording family in loving relationships)

The way in which a tourist gazes at a sight/site is of great documentary importance. By analysing the many ways a tourist sees and experiences his/her out-of-the-ordinary experiences, tourist professionals are better able to gear their media towards tapping new, “undiscovered” markets. The tourist gaze has been around since the birth of photography in 1840 and photography is central to the modern tourist gaze. Tourists, not only gaze, but experience the places they visit in a multi-sensory capacity, collecting markers of the sight/sites they see, performing in front of the camera in similar fashion as they have seen in the media, in the process of ticking off their bucket list items.

Bibliography

Urry, J. and Larsen, J. (2011) ‘Theories’ In: The Tourist Gaze 3.0. Los Angeles | London | New Delhi | Singapore | Washington DC: Sage. pp.1–30.