A documentary project by Yurian Quintanas
Each year during the last week of May, a small town from the French Camargue named Saintes Maries de la Mer is invaded with hundreds of caravans from across Europe to celebrate the pilgrimage honouring Saint Sarah ''La Kali'' the Patron Saint of the gypsies. Thus Saintes Maries de la Mer becomes for a few days in the land of gypsies, a fictitious land where you can breathe the essence of gypsy way of life. A nomad society that has been fighting against discrimination along its history, but that has never surrendered and has kept straight with its deep-rooted culture.
A life marked by constant movement, endowed with a sense of freedom impossible for our society to understand and a philosophy of life that has its roots in prehistoric times but is about to disappear at present.
It is already 3 years ago that I made my first trip to the French Camargue to attend the feast of Saint Sara, a project that started out of curiosity to get closer to the Gypsy society and which rapidly seduced me and has turned into a yearly encounter.
My interest towards communities that are living in the shadow of their respective countries and for cultures that are decaying, led to the fact that I immediately found a connection between what I want to show with my photographs and what is celebrated during the festival of Saint Sara. Even though it is based on religious devotion, it also serves as a meeting point for the Gypsy community of France and for those coming from all over Europe; a community, without land of its own, that has been throughout its history a victim of discrimination and that has moved from one country to another in search for a better life.
Persecuted in Rumania, where most of them live in poverty and marginalized by the rest of the population, the Gypsies from the East found an opportunity in the year 2007, when Rumania became a member of the European Union. This gave them the possibility to obtain rights which they had never been entitled to and which had been denied to them for decades.
My interest towards communities that are living in the shadow of their respective countries and for cultures that are decaying, led to the fact that I immediately found a connection between what I want to show with my photographs and what is celebrated during the festival of Saint Sara.
Unfortunately in the past few years, countries like France and Italy have felt the Gypsy community as being a threat to their security and therefore have adopted measures to expel them from their countries; some very drastic measures which, like in previous periods of the gypsy history, point to the entire gypsy collective as the culprit of the delinquency problems instead of focussing on certain people.
While it is true that the majority of the Gypsies do not integrate completely into the towns where they strand, probably due to their tendency to roam, it is also true that in Saintes Maries de la Mer they show themselves as a community with strong convictions of their own which are difficult to change.
While strolling through the camp, the sight of various families sitting around a table, dancing and enjoying the evening, of children playing with complete liberty among the caravans or of music groups, who are cheering up the ambiance with their songs, is a very common one.
However, the older ones have a vision of uncertainty on the future that lies waiting for the Gypsy community. The younger ones, under the influence of the luxury and richness of occidental society, are no longer willing to continue the traditions and the essence of Gypsy life vanishes with each day passing by, due to the impact of external cultures.