Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kicked Out

Recent waves of expulsions of Roma from France have drawn severe criticism from the EU to President Sarkozy. However, the police has kept on dismantling Gipsy camps all over France and sending Roma people back to their countries of origin. Most of these people come from Romania and Bulgaria.

Through Agence France Presse, I got this assignment for the Guardian to tag along with reporter Lizzie Davies and fixer Rupert Wolfe-Murray on a trip to Barbulesti, a village in Romania where most inhabitants are Roma. According to the local police officer, about 90 percent of the people in that village have been abroad (mostly Spain, Italy or France) at some point in recent years.

We met several people, most of which were relatively reticent to talk to us. Understandably so, as they have been interviewed so much lately. The Roma are pretty pragmatic, so it came as no surprise to me when some asked for money in exchange for access. We did not pay anything, but it was a hard thing to do last week, just a few days after a German newspaper had paid a guy somewhere around 200 Euros (about $260) for an interview.

We got lucky and met a school teacher in the nearby city of Urziceni, who knew the community in Barbulesti pretty well and could smooth things for us.

My plan was to photograph unobtrusively, but I soon realized that was impossible when I could only spend a few minutes at a time with each family. Plus, everyone stares directly into the camera and asks to have their picture taken. That lead nowhere, so I changed the approach and asked people to pose for me, so I could take their portraits. This worked a little better.

The biggest problem we encountered was that almost none of the people we met had recently come back from France. Even though almost everyone had a family member who had been there at some point and had sent money back, there was no direct connection with the recent wave of expulsions.

This changed when we met the vice-mayor, who had brought along a guy who had come back voluntarily from Montpellier the week before, for fear he would get kicked out by the police. The guy, obviously aware of our presence in the village, showed up wearing a France t-shirt. His name was Romica Raducanu. He was kind enough to take us to his home, where I could not only make portraits, but also shot around a little bit while he was talking to Lizzie and Rupert.

Here is how the story that Lizzie worked on appeared in the Guardian. Below are pictures from the Raducanu household and also a few portraits of people who were willing to have their picture taken in our short encounter with this community.