A workshop review by Pavel Baloun
The workshop “Stereotypical Representations of Roma and Jews in Photography”, which took place in the French Institute in Prague, October 15, 2018, was the third event in 2018 organized by Kateřina Čapková for the Prague Forum for Romani Histories (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences). The Prague Forum itself was founded in September 2016, and intends to create a space where scholars working on various topics concerning the subject of Romani histories can debate and forge connections and dialogues. Since its creation, the Prague Forum has organized events including scientific conferences (“Tracing the Legacies of the Roma Genocide. Families as Transmitters of Experience and Memory”, September 2017), workshops (Forced Sterilization of Romani Women in the Czech(oslovak) and European Contexts: Past and Present, June 2018), public discussions, and exhibitions.
The workshop itself, arranged in cooperation with the Seminar of Romani Studies (Faculty of Arts, Charles University), the French Institute in Prague, and CEFRES, was divided into two sections. The first was devoted to historical perspectives on the topic. Here, Ilsen About (founding member of the Prague Forum and researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research, CNRS) presented the depiction of so-called Gypsies at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe. His main goal, however, was to move beyond simply illustrating the variety of practices of stereotyping, and he showed the importance of understanding the social contexts in which particular photographs were taken, and how photographs could be grasped as a perfect tool to show the agency of those inhabitants who were labelled Gypsies. Secondly, Karolina Szymaniak (Department of Jewish Studies, University of Wrocław) added her expertise on Jewish self-portrayals and their reproduction in Poland in the interwar period and contemporary historiography. Her presentation emphasized the significance of the comparative perspective in thinking about the production and circulation of Jewish and Roma representations in photography.
The second part of the workshop constituted two different presentations of contemporary photographers. Sabin Badžo showed her own cycle entitled “Kalokagathia”, and discussed why and how she uses photography to create representations of contemporary Romani women. She also referred to another recent collection, “Invisible Power” by Tomáš Vrána, who creatively uses the statements of the individuals captured in the photographs to give them their own agency. Another photographer, Iren Stehli, then presented the cycle “Libuna”, documenting her close Romani friend. In this way, the workshop succeeded in interconnecting present practices with the past, encouraging debate which transgresses traditional disciplinary and scientific boundaries, and bringing together diverse interested audiences (historians, Romani-studies scholars, photographers, artists, and Roma).
Photo David Kumermann