Kieran Kesner’s photographs from his ‘Roma Project’ is an effort to highlight the prejudices and discrimination the Roma community face on a daily basis throughout Eastern Europe and indeed here in Ireland.
Currently a student in New York Kesner tells stories that bring people together, stories of ostracised communities, those that live on the margins of society, in particular Ultra-Orthodox Jews and the Roma of Eastern Europe.. Earlier this year he travelled to the Czech Republic to find out more about the Roma community and to see for himself the truth behind the stereotype, the cliche of the ‘beggars and thieves’ that have been persecuted for centuries.
In advance of his documentary Kesner contacted humanitarian Kumar Vishwanathan who integrated Kesner in the Roma communities where he spent weeks on end living with Roma communities in isolated parts of the country photographing their lives, hearing their stories and discussing misunderstood public perceptions of their culture; stereotypes ranging from Gypsy criminality, lifestyle and nomadic misconceptions, to education.
It was a life changing experience in which found nothing but humility, lover and respect. In a recent interview on the photo blog, 2headS, run by the wonderful photographer Gonzalo Benard he had this to say about the project:
I started photographing and working with the Roma (Gypsy) communities of Eastern Europe this past winter and spring when I was studying abroad in the Czech Republic. My interest in Roma society and culture stemmed first from misguided prejudice and stereotypes, and then an interest to further explore the truth about these people.
In an effort to learn more about the Roma people, I approached many professors, local students and Czech citizens to ask what their feelings were on the Roma in their country. Most of the people I approached have liberal views similar to myself in terms of equality and social justice. However, when the subject of Roma came up, most quickly dismissed the question, expressed prejudices of their own and were clearly turned off by my interest in the subject matter.
On the one hand is the stereotype of Gypsies as beggars who steal for a living and encroach on neighbouring communities. On the other, is a mysterious romanticism of Gypsy culture often featured in literature, song and film. I decided that the best way to learn more was to travel to Roma communities on my own, spend time with them and capture their culture through my photography. I spent weekends photographing their lives, listening to their stories, and discussing the misperceived public perception of their people.
The photo series was just the beginning. After heading back to America Kesner decided to start a Kickstarter campaign to launch The Roma Project in which he hopes to give voice to this persecuted community. Here’s how he puts it:
Having grown up hearing stories of persecution of my own ancestors in Eastern Europe, I was shocked that Europe in the 21st century could still harbour such collective prejudice against any ethnic group. The reasons are complicated and the results negatively affect Roma and non-Roma citizens throughout Europe. I am sensitive to both communities and the extreme challenges they face. However the solutions are clear. Roma communities must have an opportunity to rise above extreme poverty, lack of education, limited opportunities and limited political representation within their respective communities.
We have a duty as citizens of the world to give everyone an equal opportunity to live their life to the fullest. I hope my Kickstarter Initiative and Roma project will play a small role in making the world a better place by shining an even brighter light on this situation to help motivate change. I am grateful to anyone who can donate whatever they can afford to support this project and do good in the world wherever they can.
If you want to see more on this project check out Kesner’s Kickstarter page. Thanks to Gonzalo Benard for putting Kesner’s work my way. And last but not least good luck to Kieran Kesner and hope the project comes to fruition.