Lucien Clergue: Gypsies
During the mid-1950s Clergue initiated his photography of the cultural life of the
European Gypsies. A significant presence in Arlesian culture, the
Gypsies were treated with prejudice by dominant society.
As a child,
Clergue was taught to regard them with fear; however, his interest in
their music allowed him to overcome his prejudice and eventually
develop close ties with them. Clergue became acquainted with the then-unknown guitarist "Manitas de Plata" and
eventually acted as his manager and translator when the guitarist
toured the United States.
While Clergue's photographs of the Gypsies document cultural life,
they do not function as ethnography. Their interest is not so much in
the quotidian as the extraordinary.
His high-angle photograph On
forme le cercle ... , Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1958 is a birds-eye
view of two dancers and their audience. A crowd ten to fifteen people
deep watches the young couple; their faces match the concentration of
the dancing girl seen in Clergue's José Reyes au milieu de la
famille de Manitas de Plata, 1955.
One arm thrown overhead; hands
clenched; the girl's downcast eyes render her not demure but
self-assured. Clergue photographs the Gypsies as they perform for
themselves. Holding themselves outside and above dominant culture,
the Gypsies maintain a grasp upon rituals and traditions familiar
only to their own.
Next: The Bullfight