The Gypsy Families of El Clot
Jorge López Muñoz portrays impoverished gypsy communities in a historic fishing neighbourhood in Valencia, Spain, finding people harshly stereotyped yet openly proud of their way of life.
I took this photograph of a bride and her soon-to-be mother-in-law at a gypsy wedding in Valencia, Spain. The bride and groom, and other gypsy families, live in an abandoned apartment block known as El Clot in El Cabanyal, Valencia’s historic fishing neighbourhood. For the past 15 years the building and nearby homes have been threatened by demolition in order to extend Blasco Ibanyez Avenue to the seafront, but the plans have now been scrapped.
The image is part of a series about El Clot and the gypsy families who live there. In Spain, gypsies are stereotyped and rejected by mainstream society. Although these people are impoverished they are happy and proud. I wanted to try to understand their way of life and to capture in pictures the wild vitality and hope of this community. My aim was to create a powerful, intimate portrait - direct but sensitive - of these people in their environment, and in doing so show their vulnerability and strength.
I had been photographing for a year in El Clot when the couple told me they were to marry. They invited me to celebrate with them and asked if I would take photographs of the occasion, which I was very happy to do. It was a privilege for me to be invited because I'm not part of the gypsy community. Most people there are unable to afford a wedding like this so new couples usually start living together without a proper celebration. Others save up for a long time and spend everything they have on the festivities.
The girl with the blue dress is the bride and she is wearing the kind of crown gypsy brides often wear. The older woman in red is the mother of the groom. A gypsy wedding lasts a long time and has a lot of different rituals. In this image the cake is about to be cut and served to guests - it touches on gypsy culture and exuberance. Hiding the faces of the women makes the image more ambiguous and universal.
I always give a lot of thought to the composition, light and everything else in my photographs, and usually ask my subjects to look at me. This image was different. The challenge was to react quickly to the situation, to frame and shoot fast in order to capture a fleeting moment. In this way, it’s a ‘stolen’ picture. I used one small flashgun held off camera to light up the scene, and took the picture with the camera in my other hand.
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