Two years ago, on a drive through Ireland, photojournalist Birte Kaufmann saw a group of people camped on the side of the road. Intrigued, she began digging for more information, hoping to find out more about them. The Irish Travellers, as they’re called, are the biggest minority group in the country.
Kaufmann borrowed a friend’s Volkswagen camper and traveled alongside the group, becoming familiar with its lifestyle and culture.
“They have a distinct culture,” the German photographer said. “They are quite traditional in their habits and lifestyle,” including an “old fashioned understanding of the role of women and men,” and they live on the road without electricity and water most of the time.
While the Irish government has attempted to prevent discrimination against the Travellers, including recognizing the community as an ethnic group protected under the country’s Race Relations Act, Kaufman said they still experience prejudice.
“This attempt, however, failed because the Travellers would have had to sacrifice their own culture in order to integrate,” she told CNN in an e-mail interview.
Because of their unique culture, “the Travellers are not widely accepted in Ireland.”
Travellers tend to marry young and have a lot of children, Kaufman discovered. She found that while they may “live for the moment,” they also have daily routines of washing and cooking. They are very religious and go on pilgrimages to holy places.
Kaufman has studied social work and wants to capture life without judging, she said.
The more access she got to the people, the more she enjoyed shooting the project for her final thesis. They began to trust her and allow her to catch many intimate moments with her camera.
She will continue working on the project “as long as I see more images every time I visit the Travellers,” she said.
Her work will be exhibited in Berlin at Oranienplatz 17 from October 26 through November 27.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN