Culture | Visual Arts

Review: ‘Visual representations of Roma people: moving beyond stereotypes’ – Exhibition workshop at the Balassi Institute



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In her welcome to the event, Eszter Pataki, Director of the Hungarian Culture Centre and a former journalist, pronounced that ‘the Roma community is part of the shared culture in Hungary’, yet ‘many stereotypical images exist in the media even in the UK.’  The phrase ‘of Eastern European appearance’ always appears in a negative context.

IMG_0251 Mother and childrenThe images in the exhibition were compelling – one showed a young mother having a meal with her children – one child’s looking inquisitively up at the photographer unseen as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’

The photographs were chosen by the organisers to challenge stereotypical representations, as well as seeking to understand the opinions and reactions of the workshop participants to the images. According to Dr Sanna Nissenen, ethical photographer at the University of Portsmouth, ‘looking at images, people are never usually asked to express their feelings in words’.

The exhibition workshop, open to all, attracted approximately forty people, who clearly enjoyed the experience of creating a personal collage of images, ideas and thoughts.  The output filled up the workshop portfolio in a very short space of time.

Dr Annabel Tremlett (University of Portsmouth) warned that ‘The category Romais unhelpful as it does not capture the complexities that exist in all communities. Imaging plays a role in it. As an image maker there’s always something in my mind about respect when photographing.  However, the intention may be read in different ways…So a big question is – if there must be non-stereotypical images – what are they?’

In 2000 as an NGO worker in Kecskemét,Tremlett gave disposable cameras to the children to take photos of where they lived.  Going back to Kecskemét– those children are now in their twenties – their recent photos are also represented in the exhibition.

From Örveny (2010)

From Örveny (2010)

The third organiser of the workshop, John Oates (Open University) added ‘Children do not choose when and where they are born. They should at least be given the best chance.’ He was decorated with the Hungarian Knight’s Cross Order of Merit for his work in improving educational opportunities for poor children, especially Roma. ‘It has helped me to continue to contribute in various ways to support families in poverty.’ His award winning film Örvény (2010)created with Csaba Szekeres, follows three families and their lives in a Roma community situated within a small, very poor village in North Eastern Hungary near the Ukrainian border.  ‘My motivation for making this film was to give the families a voice and to show that they do not choose to live troubled lives, but that it is their situation and all the forces acting on them, the Vortex that keeps them as they are.’ The film has assisted him to promote the value of the Hungarian Biztos Kezdet (Sure Start) programme of Gyerekházak (Children’s homes) which Oates helped to establish.

Nissenen, Tremlett and Oates are planning further exhibition events as part of their research study.  Between them, they have over 2,000 images produced as part of their research working with Roma people.  Their intention’s to present the results of their audience research with extensive photograph analyses at conferences and publish their findings.  In the spirit of their inclusiveness, all the participants of the Workshop on 14thJune were welcomed to keep in touch for further discussions as well as receive news about future presentations of the research.

The research team will be presenting next in Paris June 25th– June 28th2018 at the International Visual Sociology Association (IVSA) Annual Conference. For further information about the conference see:

They’re presenting on Wednesday June 27th at 4.30pm, you can read the abstract here:

If you have a question about Visual representations of Roma people: moving beyond stereotypes you can contact any of the research team:

Dr Annabel Tremlett, University of Portsmouth:

Dr Sanna Nissenen, University of Portsmouth :

Mr John Oates, Open University:

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