Gazela was an isolated community of over 200 Roma families living abjectly difficult lives under the Gazela road bridge in Belgrade, Serbia. They made their living from the recycling of metals and refuse, and the landscape around their homes was filled with toxic mounds of rotting waste. It was a ghetto split on the banks of one of the region’s most important rivers and on premium real estate eyed by the elites.
This photo story begins with the community living under the bridge before its destruction and partial relocation on August 31, 2009. The local government, with funding from the European community, is working to open the land for reconstruction and development. The project then follows these residents to their new homes across Serbia, some better and some worse than the original settlement.
The people living there, depending on their legal status, would either be given a new container to live in on the outskirts of the city, free transport back to their villages or if they had no papers, an unceremonious trip to the curb and likely a home in another improvised camp.
My motivation has been to photograph the vitality and essence of these men, women and children, beyond the ugly facade of their situation. Lives and livelihoods were uprooted, and a community disassembled. This is regrettable whether or not it is in the greater public interest or ultimately benefits the residents.
— Matt Lutton
Editor's note: I discovered Matt Lutton's work when I was judging the 2010 Anthropographia Awards for Human Rights and Photography. I'm happy to share it here with the readers of Lens Culture.
— Jim Casper
This Is Nowhere200 Roma families who lived in a ghetto on the banks of one of Belgrades’s most important rivers have been run off the land, which is now considered premium real estate coveted by the elite class. Matt Lutton reports.View Images
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
200 Roma families who lived in a ghetto on the banks of one of Belgrades’s most important rivers have been run off the land, which is now considered premium real estate coveted by the elite class. Matt Lutton reports.View Images
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
200 Roma families who lived in a ghetto on the banks of one of Belgrades’s most important rivers have been run off the land, which is now considered premium real estate coveted by the elite class. Matt Lutton reports.
A late-summer party organized by a Roma family, refugees from Kosovo, under the Gazela bridge which flies over camps on both sides of the Sava river. The destruction of the camps is to make way for reconstruction of the old bridge. © Matt Lutton
A man works at his metal salvage business in the Nova Gazela camp underneath the bridge. The enterprise employs dozens of people in the community. © Matt Lutton
Children play near a garbage burn pile in the Stara Gazela camp at dusk. © Matt Lutton
Smoke from a trash fire looms over the Nova Gazela settlement. © Matt Lutton
A mother breast-feeding her daughter outside of one of the few permenant homes during the celebration for a baptism in Nova Gazela. © Matt Lutton
A portrait of Jesus hangs in a cardboard home in the Stara Gazela settlement in "old" Belgrade. © Matt Lutton
Elvis and his neighbor work to salvage building materials from an abandoned home in the Stara Gazela camp days before the settlement's destruction. © Matt Lutton
A young man in the Stara Gazela camp. © Matt Lutton
A Roma outside of a makeshift home in the Belville camp in New Belgrade. © Matt Lutton
A girl runs through smoke near a suspected arson in an abandoned home in Nova Gazela, a camp on the New Belgrade side of the Sava River. The fire happened on the day before the relocation and destruction of the settlement. © Matt Lutton
The first city workers, many of them Roma themselves, arrive at the Nova Gazela settlement at 7am on August 31, 2009 to help with the relocation and destruction of the camps. © Matt Lutton
Bulldozers flatten homes in the Nova Gazela settlement while families, social workers and police watch from under the Gazela bridge. © Matt Lutton
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