Elvira and Me – final

So. It’s over. I’ve submitted all my MA work and now just need to physically hand my book in on Monday. Most importantly for me though, this afternoon I’ve given Ramona her hardback copy – which I wanted to do before I shared it online. The reaction was very positive and I am so glad I had the project translated into Romanian (cu multe mulţumiri Daniel şi Dorothea!) because members of her family were immediately able to check it out for themselves…who knows, maybe they will learn something about her.
But now I’m doing that thing which I so often do with my own work – I’m mentally over it before I’ve even showed it to anyone. The dissemination part is something I am fairly weak at, since if I’m honest I shoot/cover stories primarily to indulge my own curiosity. I stick things on my blog and show them to the few colleagues I know well but beyond that am never quite sure what to do with my personal work. Anyway I think this is actually the first time that I’ve been truly proud of a body of work, and I finally feel I’m really saying something worthwhile – no doubt because this project is a collaboration – all I’ve done in this case is act as facilitator, supporting someone else to represent themselves. I intend this to be the start of a larger body of work on the UK’s new Roma communities.

Please check out my book layout.

If viewing on Issuu is a problem, you can download the low-res pdf from here.

A couple of short clips of Ramona talking can be seen below – she has such an amazing voice that it seems criminal not to share her words. These are not part of my MA submission….


Romania outtake 2

I’m gradually separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and working out a sequence and narrative for the Romanian section of my project. It’s certainly not easy, and the fact that everyone I speak to seems to have a different opinion about how I should go about it only makes it more confusing. As far as possible I’m going to go with my original gut instinct – one of my main issues being that I really want to make sure the tone is right, because the project is very personal. So many things to stress about in the meantime – the essay we have to write to go with it, all the various bits of interview and text I want to include, book design (my main fear at this point) and various other things.

Photo interviewing

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have been experimenting with the anthropological fieldwork technique of photo-elicitation as I work on my Roma project. My initial attempts with Lida, a couple of which I put up on my blog, involved her writing down a few sentences in response to images – so far only photos from her own family album and photos she has taken for me (see a couple here and here). I’ll be continuing to play with this approach as I decide which of my own photos I’ll be using. Last week I had an initial stab at this with Ramona, again with images she has been taking for me with a camera I gave her. In this case it turned out slightly differently – Ramona is new to writing and very under-confident so after a brief aborted attempt I changed tack and recorded what she said. Doing it in this way has both pros and cons in my view. I quite liked the idea of using a little bit of hand-writing next to a select number of photos in my final layout, thinking it would give the project an extra something, so I’m a little disappointed that’s not really going to work. On the upside though, recording certainly results in far more thoughtful and insightful responses. The idea of this part of my project is that it is collaborative so I’m a bit loathe to jumping in and editing down responses for length. I’m realising though that my final layout is going to be pretty text-heavy, which is fine in some senses, I just need to find a way to put it together which doesn’t detract from the images.

And back…

I’m back from my Romania trip today in body, if not quite yet in spirit. After a week-and-a-half somewhat marred for me by illness and culminating with the 19-hour return journey from hell, it’s going to take my weary brain some time to process the huge amount I have seen and learned. I had a brilliant time and was made to feel extremely welcome by the family I was staying with, who let me shoot freely. Whether or not that freedom has translated into images which support the narrative which emerged before my eyes while I was there is another question, one which will take me a little while to work out. This part of my project is not over – I have a few things to do over the coming weeks to tie up loose ends with Ramona, while also ramping up the work with my other subject Lida, with whom I will travel to the Czech Republic in just over a month’s time. I’m not sure how both halves of this project will sit together in the end, or if they even will…in fact I’m still not entirely sure how the work will be presented. I’d be surprised if the second part measures up to the first in terms of its strength but I’m keeping an open mind, while trying not to feel overwhelmed at the very great but exciting task ahead.

So it’s happening…

Today I’m going to travel to Luton by coach and then fly to small-town Romania, arriving early tomorrow morning. We’re going to Urziceni, a town of 17,000 people about 60km from Bucharest. What I’ll see and learn there I don’t know but at the moment I’m keeping everything crossed that people will be ok with the camera. I doubt I’ll have internet while I’m away so back in 10 days or so… ciao.

A photo drive

I continued my experiment in collaborative photography yesterday with Lida, with a little drive on which we retraced some of her steps since moving to the UK. She isn’t really that interested in taking photographs – whereas Ramona jumped at my suggestion that I give her a digital camera, Lida said she wasn’t bothered. However, yesterday I was the designated driver and she took the shots using my compact camera. She then wrote the captions as we went along. This is, as I wrote before, an experiment which has come about through my research into the intersection between photography and visual anthropology – and I suppose in many ways it follows on somewhat from my earlier research paper on visual representation of the Roma. Unfortunately for a journalist, I have become profoundly uncomfortable over the course of this MA with the idea that I am in any way putting words into my subjects’ mouths, or speaking for them. There’s a danger, I guess, that using this kind of approach though will weaken my overall project, perhaps making it too bitty or scrapbook like….who knows if it will survive the final edit, but it is something I’ll be dabbling with at least with both women – while continuing to shoot in my own way.