In 2013, I reported on a group of Romanian Roma partaking in an experimental programme in Lyon, France. The programme was launched against the backdrop of rising xenophobia in France, with then Interior Minister Manuel Valls describing the Roma as being in direct “confrontation” with the French way of life, thus making it impossible for them to integrate.
The experimental programme provided a unique framework to explore the question of integration, particularly with regards to the French model of universalism. Whilst taking photographs myself, I led a series of workshops with six Roma women from Romania. We explored theoretical aspects of photography such as framing, lighting, mise en scène, movement, styles of visual storytelling; and practical issues relating to their personal lives, touching upon questions of gender, family, (care) work, and ways of seeing oneself.
During one workshop session, I lay out photographs of concepts: a car, a house, money, a horse, a teacher, the country side, traditional Romanian food, a croissant, ... I asked the women to place each image in either the corner Romania or France. Images related to the countryside and agriculture were associated with Romania, while the symbols of wealth were related to France. One photograph showed a boy at school. As one of the participants took the photograph and placed it in the corner Romania, another swiftly touched her hand and said, “you know that we are not allowed!” When it came to placing a photograph of a woman cleaning the house, however, the women hesitated. Then one of them said, “it’s Romania and France, depending on where we are.” This lead me to wonder in what way the photographs taken by Roma women would differ from those taken by Roma men, as the women’s domestic context seems to change less with migration than the men’s “outside” context.
The women were equipped with disposable cameras which have the increasingly rare quality of being intimately yours and un-instant. The photographs cannot be deleted or shown to others, allowing the camera to become a personal tool of expression, where time, the conscious and the sub-conscious are (quite literally) part of the bigger picture.
The result are images of the everyday life of these women as they see it, and themselves.