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Roma: Slovakia's 'Beautiful People'
4 Jun 2012 Roman Cuprik Politics & Society
AN OLD, well-dressed couple is sitting in front of an elaborately decorated window while posing for a photographer. The old man is holding his wife’s hand while she stares at the ceiling. She is blind. The old-fashioned interior of the room is clean and tidy. The couple in this photograph, taken by Šymon Kliman, are a Roma couple living in a settlement in Slovakia.
Kliman recently exhibited a series of photographs, named Beautiful People, which he took between 2008 and 2011 of Roma in their own environment after he had asked them to wear their best clothing and posed them in their nicest room. Kliman’s exhibition, dedicated to International Roma Day, had a prominent place on Hviezdoslavovo Square beginning on May 4 and stayed there until the end of the month. The exhibition also opened Gypsy Spirit, a project awarding prizes to those working with the Roma community.
The project originally started as Kliman’s diploma work as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design. The photographer has received several photographic awards in Slovakia. He sensed there was a stereotype in depicting Roma in photographs and wanted to take a different approach.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Kliman about his work and his experiences photographing and observing Roma life during this three-year period.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why does a college student go to Roma settlements and take photos of residents?
TSS: Had you been thinking about this for a long time or was it just because of your diploma work?
Roma are good subjects for the camera. They have something in their eyes which white people do not have; there is a different, stronger expression. Therefore it is really easy to do nice pictures when photographing them. But those photos are beautiful not because of their content. The content is important for me and this is why I stylised my Roma photographs to various old-fashioned pictures. They almost duplicate portraits of kings and Madonna scenes made by simple light and technique.
I noticed that Roma grow up more quickly than we do and also grow older faster. Emotions are extremely important, along with family bonds and relationships. For example, if there is a 15-year-old boy who has been taking drugs since he was nine and he does not even know how to communicate, he is not rejected by his family; they still take care of him.
TSS: But Roma differ from each other and are not homogeneous?
TSS: Did you have the aim of changing stereotyped views about Roma?
TSS: Do you have critics?
TSS: What was it like visiting Roma settlements? Do you have an experience you will never forget?
Yet one is always laughing with Roma and some of their stories are positive. There is a woman of the same age as me and she has four children. Her husband died and she raises not only her four children but three others as well. One of them lost his parents and two others are from her cousin.
Šymon Kliman's photographs and series have won the VÚB Photo of the Year 2008 award, the Rector’s prize AFAD 2008, first prize at the Czech Photo Annual Awards 2012 and he has been a been finalist at the Grandprix Fotofestiwal Łódź.
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