Vol 1 No 9 Fall/Winter 2003

Roma Family Portrait:
A Photographic Presentation

by Arjen J. Zwart

An encounter with Roma and their culture in west Anatolia provided the impetus for my photographic project. Their dress, lifestyle and their ability to survive in a rough environment like Istanbul attracted me to them. My interest is not in the romantic point of view about the Roma, but in the realities of daily life for them.

My aim is to create a family portrait/album over a ten-year period. I started this project in 2001 and will return every year for a couple of weeks to continue it. The family I am photographing lives on the edge of suburban Istanbul in small simple houses. This clan originally came from Macedonia, but has been living in Turkey for several generations. They have family ties all over Turkey, but the majority lives in the neighbourhood of Istanbul and the Black Sea region.

Every day the woman and children of the clan are to be found in the streets of Kadikoy, a one hour bus drive from their homes. These women in appearance, big and fearsome, make sure that the children collect money by selling small items like chewing gum and tissues or by playing the darbuka. The children are fantastic creatures. On the street they can be very assertive, but if you play with them they change instantly. Despite warnings from police and local civilians I have never had any problems and have been treated as a friend.

The men, most of them jobless, stay at home or in the local teahouse. Sezgin is the only man who accompanies the women and children. He is the father of five children. His wife stays at home and takes care of the two youngest children. Mustapha, Nermin and Yonca, the three oldest children work everyday on the street the entire year through except on Mondays and during family affairs. Below are some of my photos from the early years of this project.

Click on the thumbnail to view the photograph.

Young girls having fun;
snapping their fingers "Gypsy style"

Mustapha plays darbuka on the street


Mothers having a picnic

During cold and rainy days
the group seeks comfort around a fire

Young Roma women

At Sezgin's home

"Kaderbu", - "this fate"

Very recently (2003) I visited the Roma clan in Istanbul and was very lucky to be invited for a wedding. Below are some of my photographs from this celebration.

Wedding parade
Bridal pair Gelim (14 years) and Ahmet (16 years)

Bulbul and Delikiz dancing in the centre

Dancing women
(a washing dance)

Musicians walking to the bride's home

Behiye with a chicken and a bottle of raki

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