Nigel Dickinson is a Paris-based documentary photographer focusing on the environment, human rights, culture, and identity. After graduating from Sheffield University in 1982, he began a series on public protest in England, and later spent several months photographing apartheid in South Africa.
His work on the Birmingham miner’s strike in the mid-1980s was published and toured by the Arts Council of Great Britain. He later moved to South East Asia to document the devastation wrought by logging in indigenous communities, which earned him a bronze award from the United Nations Environment Programme’s photography competition.
In the early 1990s, he began documenting the Roma festival at Saintes Maries de la Mer in France. The resulting book, Sara: Le Pelerinage des Gitans, was published in 2003. His work also took him to the Balkans, where he continued his work on Roma, as well as other displaced peoples, and to Central and South America, where he photographed street children, the aftermath of the Guatemalan civil war, the Yanomami Indians in the Amazon, and climate change. In 1997, he was awarded a World Press prize for his work on mad cow disease.
His photographs are widely published in outlets including Le Figaro, Stern, GEO, D Republicca, Marie Claire, Mare, and La Vanguardia. In 2000, for his work on Roma, He was a runner-up for the Eugene Smith Award. Parts of this work have also been exhibited by the European Union and shown at Visa Pour L’image. He continues his project on Roma across the world, most recently traveling to the Americas and working in Spain, where he is shooting a documentary film. He is represented by Polaris.
This set of photographs presents Roma as a people whose story is not written within one country’s borders. It is about a culture, a way of life across a continent. The pictures portray the Roma’s diaspora throughout Europe—a story of migration, persecution, and suffering. They are the object of racism, refugees of war and, in too many places, live in abject poverty.
The most recent mass migration of Roma occurred during the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, as thousands of Roma—caught between frontlines in Bosnia or ethnically cleansed from Kosovo—fled to Western Europe and beyond. Others have come from elsewhere in post-communist Europe to escape racism and poverty, only to end up living in squatter settlements on the periphery of rich Western cities. Exodus is nothing new to a people who survived the Holocaust, centuries of forced displacement, and slavery.
Today, with tension over immigration and porous borders on the rise, Roma receive even harsher treatment, and hostility toward “Gypsies” is in full force. The nine million Roma who live throughout Europe are still seen as eternal outsiders, and are often shunned by gadje, the Romani term for non-Roma. The racism that had been denied overt expression during communist rule is now allowed to flourish, and Roma face discrimination at every turn, from education to employment.
Most Roma live in insular communities; they are proud, fiercely private, and distrustful of outsiders. They define their own cultural boundaries, they are extravagant and ostentatious, deeply religious, and keep strict codes of social etiquette. While Roma relate to their national origin, they identify most closely with the idea of family, tradition, and of a people.
The inaugural session, in 2005, of the European Roma and Travellers Forum at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg represented for many Roma the long-overdue assertion of their identity as a people. The hope is that Europe will take notice of the self-determination of its largest and most persecuted minority, and that their call for empowerment will extend to the three million Roma who live on the other side of the Atlantic.
Strong emotional bonds draw me back to visit and live with Roma year after year. I’ve worked to expose the systems that keep them down, and explain the circumstances of their departure. While each image tells a story, together, the photographs are a testimony to European Romani life experience, their vibrant culture, and identity.
—Nigel Dickinson, September 2006