You can see the influence and the photographic tradition of Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson and even Robert Frank. Whilst Koudelka’s book is said to open with the figure of a young man almost like a guardian – a ‘gatekeeper of the secret society of the Roma people’ – possibly making the audience feel slightly uncomfortable; Joakim Eskildsen’s book opens with a gentle serene portrait of a innocent sleeping child cradled in a knotted hammock, with protective parents hovering nearby.
The images in his book were often made at dusk or in shallow light, whereas some of Koudelka’s images are obviously underexposed and have been described as almost ‘film noir.’ The colour palette of Eskildsen immediately identify the photographs as contemporary, which lends itself well to the vibrant colours captured within the Roma community, highlighting the subtle differences between the various countries. In contrast the atmospheric grainy black and white photographs contained within Gypsies don’t allow you to easily separate one community from another.
Whilst on the subject of colour Eskilden has captured the different pigments but they aren’t gaudy, he has shown them as secondary, as part of the way of life, as opposed to Kenneth O’Halloran’s project Fair Trade where the colours are most definitely one of the first impressions you get of his imagery.
Neither bodies of work appear to present the Roma situation as ‘a social problem that can somehow be fixed’ but instead reveal communities that share the universal human condition; a combination of joy, amazement, sorrow, death and community. Koudelka did not portray the Roma to be ‘mischievous crooks or swindlers’– he revealed them to be loving, fun, and community-oriented human beings– to whom family values, religion, and self-identity was very important. Symbolism of crosses, family portraits and other traditional ephemera can be seen throughout both projects.
Both sets of photographers encountered some difficulties in capturing their images; Koudelka had to take time off work to visit the Gypsy camps and villages, his subjects mistrustful and the Communist Government was unhappy, whilst Eskildsen came across communities who did not wish to be photographed and an official who tried to denounce their Roma origins. Similarly both spent a considerable length of time living amongst the Roma whilst learning about and photographing them.
Another parallel would be the variety of shots: still life, individual portraits, family portraits, candid moments and landscapes. Another comparison would be that whilst Koudelka’s compositions were frequently more ‘loose’ with off kilter horizons, a lot of negative space and surreal imagery, Eskildsen’s appear more measured.
As you can see by the images I have paired, the imagery overlaps almost seamlessly in places. Even to the parting shot in Gypsies and the last shot on Eskildsen’s website from the Russian section.
Both photographers hold onto traditional compositional rules such as implied triangles, rules of odds or evens, frames within frames, juxtaposing melancholy with frivolity and movement within the frame/ kids having fun. However I do feel there is more movement and energy in Koudelka’s, the images in The Roma Journeys seem to have a slower pace to them.
Thematically Koudelka did not shy away from the traumatic aspects of life, including murder and the poignant reality of the death of a child, whilst Eskildsen plays it safe with his depiction of the harsh Roma way of life.
Koudelka’s use of light is stunning.
In conclusion, although there are many similarities to the work, there are enough subtle differences between the two, and not just due to the use of colour, to say that The Roma Journeys is not just a direct copy of Koudelka’s Gypsies. Although their initial inspirations were not the same they have both managed to portray various aspects of day to day life although I feel Koudelka captured more. When a culture has not significantly altered, even after a few decades, it is tricky to go back and capture something totally new. Through comparison there are many overlapping themes, but feel this in someways was inevitable, unless the shots were overly constructed. However, this exercise does underscore how topics can be revisited or approached from a slightly different angle to produce a contemporary and relevant body of work.