Poverty, vulnerability, misery. Such dramatic images on the Gypsies of Western Europe, primarily of the Netherlands, from the 1930s to the 1960s, which we are accustomed to only from Romania, Bulgaria or Yugoslavia. Did they live in so archaic conditions in Western Europe even only two generations ago?
But after the first shock some other details emerge, too: the well-maintained mobile homes, the civilian clothes and objects, the interested and open looks. And if we have a look at some other photos of the Dutch Nationaal Archief’s collection which represent Gypsies – for example those which show the much more consolidated world of the Gypsy pilgrimage of Saintes Maries de la Mer in Provance – then it will be clear that the drama is largely due to the photographer’s focus. Who – this is obvious at the first glance – must have been a very good photographer if he made such compelling images. We start to search for his name in the Archief’s database.
Paul Almásy (Budapest, 1906 – Paris, 2003) from 1924 studied political science in Vienna, Munich and Heidelberg. From 1929 he became a photographer of the German Wehr news agency, and later of the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung. He traveled all the countries of the world (“except for Mongolia!”), and besides the photo coverage of events it was his personal ambition to compile “the archive of the world” from the photos of all people and all classes, including the various ethnic and social marginal groups. We do not know yet whether he managed to complete it. In fact, his works have been largely forgotten since the seventies, and his archive of one hundred and twenty thousand negatives – not to speak about his pictures preserved in several photo collections of the world – has just started to be processed.
Besides the photos by Almásy, the following series also includes some other pictures on Gypsies from the Nationaal Archief. Click on the small images: they really live in large size.