When dealing with the protection of Roma rights, you get to know a lot, not only about Roma themselves — so lively and unusual, — but also about the creative people who are interested in them: painters, photographers and writers, about those, who strive to express the attractiveness of the Roma world in their own works once they fall under its fascination.
Of course, something from such „creative“ approach to the Roma theme has little to do with the protection of human rights — the art, same as the literature, admits the possibility of distortions, exaggerations and inaccuracies, whereas in research and analytical work they are unacceptable. But there are genres also in the art (or on the boundary between the art and a documental reflection), enabling to show the reality with extreme precision, even if it is through the prism of the artist. This very genre is a photography. In the latest years a lot of artists turn to colourful pictures of Roma life. In the modern world that is getting more unified the traditional Roma settlements seem to be the great source for the new and interesting images. But not every one who comes to the settlement with a photo camera is able to understand and express in his own work something more than just a mere curiosity and amusement of the stranger. The Roma world is complex – it has its own greatness, and its own tragic peculiarities. In order to be able to express its multitude and unity, its joyful vividness and dark misfortune, its refusal to obey and inevitable dependence on people around, one needs to know a lot, to see and feel.
The life of Roma looks very different depending on whether we see it from the “outside” through the eyes of the stranger, or from the “inside” — as it is seen by Roma themselves. It is well known that the opinion of the uninitiated is often predefined from the childhood by the prejudices, intolerance towards alien customs, ethical and aesthetical views. Not surprisingly, a lot of non-Roma people think of Roma clothes as too flashy and vulgar along with the blatant jewellery of Roma women, and the behaviour of the settlement Roma on the streets of the city causes a condemnation and protest. But also the „internal” look is not free of the same prejudice — the supporters of the “own conceptions” often do not wish to accept any unusual kind of work, or house or traditional clothing as suitable to Roma people. The Verdict is “We don’t do it” often means condemnation and refusal to accept the people who have any differences. Only those who posses a good knowledge and a broad scope are able to understand that the world in itself and the world of Roma in particular is extremely diverse, rich and original, that different life conditions and circumstances among different nations were forming different habits along centuries of wandering and contributed to the development of new occupations, acquaintance with other customs and adoption of other religions. Therefore, the genuine Photo-researchers spend a lot of time, travelling among Roma settlements and stationary stops not only owing to take kilometres of the film and amaze the world with the colourful pictures but also to better get to know, see and hear how Roma live in a modern world. The artists express their personal view and understanding not only by taking pictures of Roma but also by taking photos of where they went and what they put the value on. Some of them get shocked by the poverty, desolation and hopelessness of Roma settlements of Central Europe. The art works of the Hungarian Photo-artist Balash Gardy gives exactly such impressions of the artist — this is also a fervent reproach of those who remain indifferent to the sufferings of Roma and a hard reality about the dark sides of the life of people who are a living in a state of utmost need and an expressive, true protest of the conscious and merciful person.
Another completely different approach to the photostory about the life of Roma is peculiar for Joakhim Eskildsen — a Dutchman who lives in Finland and takes photos of Roma around the world. If Balash notices everything sad and tragic, Joakhim is driven towards the vividness, naturalness and solemnity of Roma — not without reason he choose as the slogan for his Roma project the words of Roma school kids from the Peri settlement: “The world is beautiful — Cho Mundro Omiro”. The exhibition of his works was opened at the beginning of 2007 in Helsinki, and soon his wonderful photoshots will be shown to the people in other Scandinavian countries — Sweden and Denmark. The seven years of work by Joakhim and his wife Seya Rinne has been finally recognised, as being photographers and experts in the modern art, as well as defenders of Roma rights, representatives of Roma community — all those, who appreciated the documentary and enlightening importance of the project of Joakhim and Seya. Along many years Seya and Joakhim were travelling across different countries and religiously collecting data about local Roma, their history, traditions, and a way of life. Seya, who speaks different European languages, was conducting long discussions with the inhabitants of Roma settlements, by recording their stories, as well as her own impressions from what she saw and heard. Joakhim was diligently taking photos. Genuinely interested in everything that has to do with Roma, Seya and Joakhim did not miss the possibility to talk with any specialist – anthropologist, linguist, historian, or get to know every new publication, to know something about the arts of Roma or about the works of those who deal with Roma — whether it is painting, literature or journalism. Their work from the beginning had a concept and they did not just go somewhere (Roma can be found everywhere!), but rather to those countries, where, according to their idea, there was something principally new and important. The exhibition, called „Roma trips“, depicts this approach — by going from one hall to another, the viewer gradually gets to know the figures of the same but at the same time different people, there are nomads of India — in turban with the desert on the background, and the Central-European Roma from poor villages of Hungary and Romania as well as inhabitants of carton cities of Greece, caravans in France, and “tabors” in Russian. The video impressions of the visitor are accompanied by the soft music — in their trips Seya and Joakhim recorded a lot of different Roma songs and melodies, which were later processed by the composer (the brother of the photographer) Sebastian Eskildsen that later became an additional decoration of the exhibition. In the centre of the hall visitors could get to know the main result of the work done by Seya and Joakhiim — a model of the future book (that is currently being prepared to be published in Germany). The book represents the big photo-album with short annotations, written by Seya. When reading short but precise and expressive sketches, you get amazed by the fact of how Seya Rinne could grasp the very core of what was happening around, understand the specifics of local life and deliver it in simple and comprehensible words for people who do not know anything about Roma, by being only once in the Roma settlement.
Several years ago we had the chance to be the guides for Seya and Joakhim in their trip within the North-West of Russia, we were travelling together in Leningrad, Pskov and Novgorod districts. By working many years in this region, we knew very well the whole complexity and uncommonness of the condition of different Roma in our side. But how to explain this to foreigners who were for the first time in Russia? It came out that people, who can see, hear and compare who have seen a lot and do not try to declare their knowledge as absolute, ready for perception of the new information could understand our reality without any help from the side and organically integrate it into the overall picture about the life of Roma. Those who happen to work with Eskildsen could see the book on the show window of the exhibition hall, the first unique “publications” of his book — collections of photos in different format, bound by Joakhim himself. These books keep the traces of hands of thousand people — men and women, children and elderly, all those, who were in wagons and tents (in Romanian Karpaty Kelderari-Roma are still travelling this way), in cosy Finnish houses and in compact “tabors” on the edges around Saint Petersburg could see Joakhim’s photos and curiously see the faces of Roma from different countries that seemed to be known This is also one of the aspects of the awareness raising project of Joakhim and Seya — owing to their work, not only non-Roma world could know more about Roma and understand them better but also Roma themselves could hear sometimes for the first time about other Roma groups, they had the opportunity to have a touch on the kindred but little known culture. The publication of the book by I. Eskildsen and S. Rinne will definitely become an important event for all those, who love and value the multitude of life, beauty of people and countries, the joy of knowing.