Gypsies, from Caravans to Houses
When 170 families of Manushes, Gypsies and Yenishes decided to settle down on a field adjoining the airfield in the 1970’s, the Polygone district in the Alsatian city of Strasbourg took on a new identity. In 2000, the public administration judged the neighborhood unsafe and substandard. As a result, they made the decision to raze it to the ground and build 150 new dwelling for the community. In August 2016, the oldest houses of the Polygone were destroyed, it took more than 16 years to the project to be completed. This process of relocation of the Travelers of Strasbourg is exemplified as one of the most ambitious and innovative in France and testifies of an interest for this neglected district but it also shakes secular customs and the poetry emanating from this community: outdoor life, the instinct of travel, family celebrations around a barbecue, respect for the elders who always have their place among their lineages, children's games on the vast wasteland... In 2009, I had already met some families of the Polygone district as I captured my first two series of photographs "Gypsy Childhoods" and "The new Roma" Back on the settlement, seven years later, to find the same children who had become young adolescents, and all these Manush families, who were among the first to have trampled the Polygone soil, allowed me to share with them intense emotions and collect their reactions on the spot. As I photographed them during the six months prior to the destruction of their housing, it seemed important to me to express their feelings of oppression which permeated this meaningful period at the hinge between the old and the new world. The idea that their homes built with their own hands, the oldest dating from 1974, could suddenly be razed by bulldozers, generated in them contrasted feelings: helplessness and profound sadness prevailed with the sensation that they had been given any other choices and that they had not been listened to. To the feeling of extinction of freedom and collapse of a bohemian life was added the apprehension of being more monitored and subject to administrative normalization. All of them feverishly preserved memories, photos, pieces of dishes. Some gave free rein to their claims by covering their walls with graffiti. The elders Fatis and Waou, who can be considered as the founding fathers of this parcel of the Polygone, were the most opposed to the relocation project. Indeed, the city didn't take into account how attached the people were to their neighbourhood, their memories and their lifestyle. Living in a conventional house, paying a rent and not being able to travel any longer will be a new way of life that Gypsies will find difficult to integrate.
By contrasting them with the images of destruction, I chose to show in my photo-documentary the fragments of life of the old world so that they make up lasting memories for the community and become part of the collective memory.