In the Foreword to “Growing Up Travelling,” a new publication from Jamie Johnson, professor Mary M. Burke, University of Connecticut, writes that, “Jamie Johnson has been photographing children from a variety of cultures for the past twenty years. In 2014, she made the first of many visits to Ireland in order to photograph children from indigenous Irish ethnic Traveller community.”
It is this continued intimacy that offers us a unique insight into the lives of these often-maligned people. I was in Ireland a few years ago and came across a couple of Traveller caravans that were parked on the side of the road or in park-and-ride areas. To me, they are kind of mystical, like the Gypsies of France.
Travellers are often compared to the Gypsies and rightly so because they live a similar lifestyle. They are both very much family oriented. Often thought of as beggars Irish Traveller men work at the trades (carpentry, landscaping, etc.) in order to support their families.
This is not a publication that focuses on problems, challenges, and strife. Its focus is on the personal lives of a nomadic people. We see laughing, skinned knees, black eyes; things that happen in any other cultural setting and environment.
As Black writes at the close of the Foreword, “Johnson does not efface the deprivation or harsh conditions under which Traveller children can exist, but the importance of her images and captions is that they simultaneously allow us to perceive the joy and pride that Traveller children feel in their own culture… The subjects of Johnson’s work challenge our easy assumptions as to what makes a child happy, culturally assured and free.”
Even though they seem to be comfortable and secure in their culture, one can see parallels to our own culture and its accepted validity of fashion and societal behaviors and dress. As evidenced by images of “Brothers,” and others that display styles of hair and dresses by women and girls that mirror our lifestyles. In “Brothers” one can view a style of haircut like those worn by many a tethered person.
Aline Smithson further validates Johnson’s method of photographing cultures in a very understanding and familial manner in comments at the end of the book.
“Her innate ability to understand and appreciate the human condition allows her to engage with her subjects in an authentic way. Jamie’s years-long investigation of Irish Travellers reveals her deep connection to and interest in the lives of children.”
Should you choose to pick up “Growing Up Travelling,” it will be your reward to view the lifestyle of a culture that will not be land-bound, but rather a culture that considers themselves free.
You may want to schedule some “free” time to spend with Jamie and her friends.
For additional information and to order, please click here.