Photos show life within Liverpool’s Irish Traveler community

American photographer Jona Frank gifted cameras to Irish female travelers in Liverpool – here are the results

Photos taken by Irish female travelers in Liverpool show what daily life is like inside the community.

The roots of the project were laid 30 years ago by American photographer Jona Frank, who has always had an interest in taking portraits and learning about different communities. On her first departure from the United States, as a graduate film student at the University of Southern California in the 1990s, Jona spent a month in Ireland with the aim of photographing Irish travelers there.

Her idea was sparked by images she saw, taken by award-winning photographer Mary Ellen Mark, with Jona, now 56, saying, “I decided I wanted to photograph travellers, and when I arrived, I quickly understood that things were not going well. be easy.” While at a hostel, she sought connections with members of the community until someone agreed to take her to two camps in Tallaght, Dublin, equipped with gifts.

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Her visits “gave some pictures”, and Jona feels she “could have gone a lot deeper, but it’s hard to break through”. Three decades later, while filming a boxing project in Ellesmere Port, Jona decided to try again with the Irish traveling community in Liverpool.

After a year of planning, and through organizations like Irish Community Care with existing relationships with the community, Jona provided some Irish female travelers with cameras and a list of things to photograph in the following weeks – details of domestic life and daily routine, friendships, arts and fashion, bullying, partying, dancing, nights out at the bar, singing, crafts and hobbies like sewing and making blankets.

In a bid to capture the ‘mundane’ and ‘ordinary’ to show ‘there was something useful in photographing their daily life’, a woman photographed the window she looks out of while making her coffee every morning. Six-year-old Winnie ‘knew instinctively what to do and what she wanted to document’, like her dog Coco, her little cousin and a picture on the wall of Johnny Delaney, who was killed by a group of teenagers in 2003 due to his Irish traveler heritage.

Jona said: “There were a lot of photos of photos, like there were photos of people who died – loss is a really big topic – and there were photos of things like a child being drafted in the school, or a note to each other, but They didn’t really want to show themselves. One of the things I wanted to do for the exhibition was to do a portrait of each person who photographed and then the include, and they wouldn’t let me do that.

“Even though we had multiple support groups and multiple pathways to their communities, it was still incredibly guarded. They’re looked down upon and they’re bullied and their kids are bullied, I think being really open to that kind of documentation was something they really care about.”

She added, “They were really judged as people and as a group. If you could give someone the opportunity to understand their world a little bit, maybe that judgment would be less.”

It was ‘exciting’ when she saw the artwork come to life and met the women while in Liverpool preparing for the It’s the Traveling Life exhibition at the former George Henry Lee building near Church Street in October 2018. Jona said: “When you put something on the wall, and it’s something in your life, it takes on new meaning, it becomes a bigger symbol of something. And I think that they felt that, and I think having that experience was pretty amazing.

Seeing Winnie, in particular, flourish with photography landed Jona the project, even though her own role was more independent than she had originally anticipated. Jona said: “She was taking some interesting photos. It was a moment where I thought, although maybe it wasn’t the scale we wanted it to be when we started, if this six-year-old remembers what it was like to have a camera in your hand, it can make a difference in your life.If you hold on to something that you are really connected to or that grabs you, you stay with it.

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