Wordsworth called the Gypsies “wild outcasts of society.” In the folklore of he nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they appear mainly in the guise of dark-haired, mysterious fortunetellers and colorfully dressed violinists, ready to break into song at the drop of a coin.

The gypsies are more- a misunderstood, unknown, coherent yet dissimilar group of people spread throughout the world. Their origins are obscure, their numbers today are uncounted, and uncountable. For nearly a millenium they have existed on the outskirt of society, living apart through choice, but exiled also by prejudices of others.

Geoff Dyer on Josef Koudelka:In 1971, he joined the photo agency Magnum, which gave him the advantage when he was passing through of bedding down in the Paris office. The apparent meagreness of Koudelka's hobo existence was itself a kind of wealth. You can see that in some of his best-known pictures, from Slovakia and Romania, of people who, while possessing very little, are experiencing life and all its dreadfulness in grim abundance. In Koudelka's view, the glass is never half-full or half-empty; it is always overbrimming - even if what it is overbrimming with is tears. "The maximum" is what always interested him. "The maximum from me and the maximum from others."

The precise origin of the Gypsies has never been discovered. Ethnological and linguistic studies ascribe their homeland to the Indus Basin in northern India, where, sometime around A.D. 1000, a westward migration began, prompted perhaps by a local political disturbance. The dispersal of the Gypsies had begun. Bands of Gypsies spread across the continent and eventually to the New World, carrying with them their customs and their ancient language, Romany, thought for centuries to be nothing more than a thieves’ jargon. As a migrant people they became convenient scapegoats for local problems and untold ills.

Dyer:Koudelka's pictures of Gypsies and exiles are in a recognisable documentary tradition, traceable back to André Kertész, but they have such a distinctive, primal quality as to make the idea of precedents seem absurd. His landscapes look like they have not so much been taken as dug from the soil that they frame. Likewise, the moments he depicts may be fleeting, but there is always a deeper intransigence about them. Far from being timeless (as is sometimes claimed), they are saturated in time.

Henry VIII of England, taking time out from his problems with the Church of Rome, decreed a ban against further immigration of he “outlandysshe People,” and his daughter Elizabeth ordered Gypsies living in England to leave within forty days, because of “their old accustomed devilish and naughty Practices.” The “devilish and naughty” practice that most worried Their Royal Highnesses of England and elsewhere was fortunetelling. When the Gypsies appeared in Paris in 1427, they had “looked into people’s hands and told what happened to them, or would happen.”

Slovakia 1963. Dyer:In a way these panoramas are an extreme extension of the wide-angle format, pushing it towards an omniscience so stark that it distorts almost beyond recognition. That is one of the reasons Koudelka's pictures often suggest some kind of allegory or parable, while simultaneously resisting such readings. The Scottish novelist James Kelman has said that, for him, Franz Kafka is not a fabulist but a realist. At the risk of getting tangled up in a thicket of Ks, Koudelka makes Kelman's point about Prague-born Kafka seem reasonable and accurate. Or maybe the tail is wagging the dog.

The bishop of Paris, alarmed at such disobedience on the part of his flock, forthwith declared that any parisian who went to a Gypsy to hear the future would be excommunicated. Despite such disapprobation, Gypsy fortunetelling continues to this day. And fortunetelling was a means of survival for a people who have little or no other recourse; the non-Gypsies fear of the Gypsies curses and spells, did, in a subtle way limit the brutality and repression inflicted on a minority without adequate defense. By fortunetelling they imposed on the credulous a certain fear and respect: a slim defense but better than nothing.

Estimates of the number of Gypsies exterminated by Hitler run as high as 500,000, though it is not possible to verify the figure. Still, they survive. Estimates of the number of Gypsies in the United States could be as high as one million, constituting an underground populace that lives by its own rules and believes first and foremost in its own societal mores.

TheBrightGypsy:“An insightful photographer known for his gruff honesty, Koudelka’s central subject during the early years of his career in the 1960s and ’70s was the plight of the Gypsies in Western Europe. This photograph is a remarkable visualization of the power of music—one of the Gypsies’ g

est assets—to connect human beings.”

Those mores are, in many ways, stricter than the rules we- the “gadje” – live by. They are based on a patriarchal society, on an endogamous, or inbred, society, on a society that lives in constant proximity. A family group among Gypsies is all-important, and cannot be separated.

And what of the Gypsies today? Have we progressed beyond the age old notion of  Gypsies as vagabonds, thieves, whirling dancers,musicians, and con men? There is no definitive answer. Gypsies inhabit the world today , just as they inhabited the world of the fifteenth-century. They were not accepted then, and they are not accepted today. They have changed their life-style to a certain degree, but they remain a separate community.

Dyer:Koudelka was born in 1938. He studied aeronautical engineering before becoming a full-time photographer in 1967. After the Prague pictures established his reputation - or at least that of an "anonymous Czech photographer" - Koudelka left the country on a three-month exit visa to photograph Gypsies, a project he'd begun in 1966. Failing to return home at the end of that period, he became stateless, a status he craved the way others yearn for money or fame. He felt at home in exile. All he needed, he insisted, was a good night's sleep, plenty of film, and time.

Perhaps we should not worry about the future of the Gypsies; rather, we should accept the philosophy they themselves have adopted. As Jan Yoors wrote in 1967: “The Rom lived in a perpetual present; memories, dreams,desires,hungers, the urge toward a tomorrow, all were rooted in the present. Without ‘now’ there was no before, just as there could be no ‘after’.”

...Everything else was a seductive distraction: the less he had, the less there was to miss. "I needed to know that nothing was waiting for me anywhere," he has said. "That the place I was supposed to be was the place where I was at that moment, and that when there was nothing more to photograph there, then it was time to leave for another place."


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