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UPDATE: Matt emailed me to let me know of the second chapter in this story. View it here.


A young man in the Stara Gazela camp. © Matt Lutton

Friend Matt Lutton has presented words and images in the latest Lens Culture (Issue #26). His story is about the destruction of a settlement in Belgrade and the subsequent relocation of the Roma inhabitants.

I know that Matt has been working on this story for a long time and it matters very much to him. In September of last year, Matt put together a small edit of the work with a caveat that he was still working through the project. Matt recommended this local Serbian article for background on the issue.

Matt’s words:

Gazela was an isolated community of over 200 Roma families living abjectly difficult lives under the Gazela road bridge in Belgrade, Serbia. They made their living from the recycling of metals and refuse, and the landscape around their homes was filled with toxic mounds of rotting waste. It was a ghetto split on the banks of one of the region’s most important rivers and on premium real estate eyed by the elites. This photo story begins with the community living under the bridge before its destruction and partial relocation on August 31, 2009.

The people living there, depending on their legal status, would either be given a new container to live in on the outskirts of the city, free transport back to their villages or if they had no papers, an unceremonious trip to the curb and likely a home in another improvised camp.

A girl runs through smoke near a suspected arson in an abandoned home in Nova Gazela, a camp on the New Belgrade side of the Sava River. The fire happened on the day before the relocation and destruction of the settlement. © Matt Lutton

Matt’s task, if he is to compete with other storytellers is tough. The Roma people exist across Europe and have fascinated generations of photographers. The bar was set high by Josef Koudelka upon the 1975 publication of Gypsies.


In recent years, Carlo Gianferro‘s Roma Interiors showed us wealthy Roma residences.

Over seven years, Danish photographer, Joakim Eskildsen, traveled with writer, Cia Rinne, through seven Roma countries (Hungary, India, Greece, Romania, France, Russia, and Finland). Resulting in the book, The Roma Journeys. (Elizabeth Avedon write up).

Amanda Rivkin travelled to Slovakia to photograph Roma theatre productions.

Hungarian, Zsuzsanna Ardó, photographed the Roma travellers in her home country. (Video, via The Rights Exposure)

Similarly to Matt, Sanja Knezevic documented Roma people in Belgrade.

Marco Baroncini (whose work I’ve noted before) photographed the Roma in Italian capital Rome. Most of the 15,000 Roma are immigrants from the Balkans. This work impressed James Estrin and thus received Lens blog exposure.

Most recently, some Roma youth have taken up cameras empowering themselves to self-representat. Greg Ruffing gave a very good summary of the Chacipe Project:

“One project in particular this year has really intrigued me — Chacipe: An Exploration of Roma Images and Identity, which features selected images from the Chacipe Youth Photography Contest. The contest was organized by OSI’s Roma Initiatives and the Open Society Archives as part of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, an international initiative to bring together governments, NGOs and Roma civil society to work towards improving the welfare of Roma communities.”


If you are Matt, flourish in this rich photographic heritage. If you are not Matt, follow his work!

Marco Baroncini‘s photographs of a Guatemalan prison, Persons No More, are close and disorientating*.

Baroncini explains,

“Sololà, little town on the west side of Guatemala, not far from Atitlan Lake, is not a proper prison; It is an anomalous preventive detention cell: many prisoners, in fact, will never be transferred to a bigger and more equipped jail, but they will remain in the same cell to undergo all the terms of punishment.

“Those condemned for murder may remain for 50 years. The murderer, the drugdealer, the little robber are all crowded together in the same cell of 70 square meters. There is no difference between the crimes committed: they are heaped up together sharing the same situation which doesn’t give any chance to get better or improve.

They live as they were rats behind the bars, with an only one toilet and shower for all of them, which don’t work properly either, with broken drain pipes. Living in these conditions, it is very easy to became infected, especially on summer time thanks to shoddy food they eat too.

“Beds are not enough for all of them: they often sleep in two or more in the same bed, or some others put the beds together to sleep in four or five, or on the floor. There is not space enough for all of them, inside and in outside the prison, even a tiny space to spend their air time to which everyone should be entitled.

It is difficult to speak about human rights with regard to Solalà. It is the example of total negation of every sort of right. This inhuman situation of living drove some of the prisoners to write a letter addressed to “Cooperaitalia” “Human Rights” and “Derechos Humanos” reporting the cruel condition of life they are obliged to live in.”

[My bolding]

Baroncini is based in Rome and boasts an impressive portfolio.

*American-English uses disorienting, English-English uses disorientating. How we differ.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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