Q: Mr Newman, you the one! The Grand Winner of the 2nd Half of B&W CHILD 2019 PHOTO COMPETITION! Can you tell us how does it feel to be the Grand Winner on our Contest, especially when we consider the fact that you never took part in our contest before?
A: I am very excited and honored to participate in the B&W Child 2019 Photo Competition. Your email advising me that I was selected as Grand Winner came as a wonderful surprise.
Q: Before we start…can you tell us who is Bob Newman? How old are you? What is your background? How did you start with photography?
A: As of March 7, I will be 70 years old.
In a previous life, I was an academic Urologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL.
I have photographed periodically throughout my life, but since retiring about 10 years ago, I spend about six months of each year traveling and photographing.
Q: So you perceive photography as your job or life calling?
A: I would say that photography is my calling for this part of my life journey. I enjoy having the opportunity to meet new people and document parts of their lives.
Q: All our judges had a strong reaction to your Irish Travelers series. First of all, they were pleased to see real documentary photography, see and learn more about community that is so different from the everyday life of a Western man. Can you tell us, how did you get the idea to photograph this community? When did you start doing this project?
A: About six years ago, I saw some black and white, square format images on Facebook. Based on the appearance of the people in the photographs, they appeared to have been taken in the 1940’s or 1950’s. After some searching, I was able to make contact with the photographer who made the images. They were created by Joseph-Philippe Bevillard, an American photographer, who has been living in Ireland for about 20 years. In realty, the images had been made within the last 10 years.
After some correspondence, Joseph invited me to visit the Ballinasloe Horse Fair in Ireland. It was here that I first met Travellers (aka Pavees). After the fair, we visited some Traveller Halting sites and roadside camps. I became intrigued with the Pavees and their way of life. I have returned to photograph them on thirteen occasions. Each time I stay for 1-2 weeks.
Q: Who are The Irish Travelers? What’s their origin and background?
A: The Irish Travelers are a historically nomadic culture that have lived on the margins of society for hundreds of years. They number about 40,000 in the whole of Ireland and are ethnically separate from Romani/Gypsies. They have been taken “off the road” because of the Anti-Trespassing Law that was passed in 2002.
Among themselves, the older Travellers speak a non-written language called Gammon or Cant. Most don’t complete what we consider a “formal education,” so there is limited written history. However, there are accounts suggesting their existence as far back as Celtic times.
Q: How did Irish Travelers accept you? Did they welcome you or they were standoffish? Did you live with them for a period of time or you were just a visitor on a safe distance?
A: Racism and discrimination directed toward the Pavees is prevalent. As a result, they are cautious and hesitant about interacting with outsiders.
It was easy to interact with them at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. Horse Fairs are one of their main social events. Horses and other goods are bought and sold. In addition, it is a place for them to meet other Pavees and interact with old friends. Teenagers come to the Horse Fair in search of mates. Their culture is endogenous, though occasionally a marriage with a non-Traveller occurs.
At their halting sites and roadside camps, they are much more cautious. Generally, one would not be met with open arms at their homes absent an introduction by someone they know.
That is where my friend Joseph comes in. He has been photographing the Travellers for about 10-12 years. We now travel and photograph together. If one spends the time to have a respectful conversation and expresses interest, they are generally welcoming, often asking one into their caravan (small trailer) for a cup of tea.
I have not actually stayed with Travellers. However, each time I go, we return to visit many of the same families as well as seeking out new individuals or groups.
To give back to them, I bring photos from my last trip on each visit. Now, since many them know me, they run out to the car when we arrive asking if I have brought them photos.
Q: As a human being, what did you learn from Irish Travelers?
A: All humans face challenges. We all have high and low points. The Travelers seem to have more low points than most. However, they are dignified and proud of their culture and traditions. Perhaps more importantly, they are resilient. Through my interactions with them, I have learned the great importance of perseverance.
Q: What message do you want to convey to people with these photographs?
A: Irish Traveler children are, in many ways, like children everywhere. They laugh, cry, play, and learn how to interact with others. They are also different from “mainstream” children because of their traditions and culture. As an example, girls are taught to act and dress provocatively as toddlers. This continues well into the teens, and often into adulthood. The adults view this as “cute” and strongly encourage such behavior. Because they are different from the settled Irish, discrimination is prevalent. It is important to realize that Traveller children have wants, needs and dreams like every child. Hopefully, these photographs will provide an introduction to a way of life that is different but still depicts each child as a valuable part of humanity.
Q: Can you give some advice to all photographers who would like to dive into documentary photography? Hopes and Expectations? Practical advice?
A: For me, documentary photography is exciting because it affords an opportunity to explore the world and be exposed to cultures and people that I might otherwise not meet. Going into unfamiliar settings is not without its challenges. Some people are accepting, and others are not, which can lead to disappointments for a photographer. The important things are to move forward and keep respectfully documenting people, places and cultures with a goal of educating others about things with which they are not familiar. If one approach does not work, try another way to make it happen.
Q: How do you finance your projects and travels?
A: They have been self-financed.
Q: We all have bad days or low periods of life. What makes you being persuasive about your passion?
A: Highs and lows are a part of life. For me, there have been many fluctuations in my photographic journey. The road has not been flat or moving continuously upward. One example of that is entering images in contests. I entered many contests before achieving recognition for some of my work. I try to listen to constructive criticism, understanding that it is part of the learning process. Almost anyone can make a good photograph. The more one works at it, the better one can become.
Q: What do you think about photography scene of 21st century?
A: Photography is challenging in many ways. I take pictures because I enjoy the process, the people I meet, and the other photographers with whom I interact. My sense is that it can be very tough to make one’s living doing photography. Everyone has a camera in their phone, everyone takes pictures, and many do not want to pay for someone else’s images. That does mean that one cannot have a successful career in photography, but, rather that one should proceed with open eyes and recognize the challenges one will face.
Q: You often participate on photography competitions. Why it matters for photographers to take part in quality photo competitions?
A: There are many reasons to participate in photography competitions. This would include receiving constructive criticism from experienced photographers, getting exposure to those who jury the competitions as well as the general photographic community, and, if you are lucky, wining a prize or title. One should be selective in deciding which competitions to enter, with an eye toward putting your efforts and money into those which can help one move forward in their photographic efforts.
Q: What do you think of Winners and Finalists in B&W CHILD 2019 PHOTO COMPETITION, 2nd Half? Do you have favourite photographs from the 2nd Half or maybe photographers that left strong impression on you?
A: First of all, I am struck by the variety of the Winners and Finalists. My favorite portrait is called “Pipi” by M&K Slowinski of Ireland. The young girl pictured has beautiful eyes, an attitude, and appears older than her years. Well done!
Q: What is the quote or thought you live by?
A: Chance favours the prepared mind, to paraphrase Louis Pasteur. Said another way, planning and hard work can increase the likelihood of being successful and moving forward with one’s photography.
Q: We saw on your website that you are doing one more long-term project about the Mississippi Delta. Can you tell us more about this project?
A: The Mississippi Delta stretches about 200 miles long and 87 miles wide from Tunica south to Vicksburg. Some call it “The Most Southern Place on Earth” due to its racial and cultural history.
Much of its population is poor, both white and black. While there has always been a significant black population, about 400,000 African American’s migrated north during the Great Migration of the early 20th Century (1916-1970) mainly due to discrimination and racial segregation. Though Jim Crow laws were not enforced after 1965, de-facto segregation and discrimination remain for both the poor black and white elements of the population.
Bayous, flooding, violence, and abandoned and run-down houses are commonplace in the Delta. People frequent card parlours, and pool halls, and some still attend church on a regular basis. Children play in junk-strewn yards and in make-do swimming holes.
This long-term multi-year project paints a photographic picture of the Delta People, their challenges and culture.
Q: If you have any message/advice for all of us reading this interview, please share with us.
A: Pursue your dreams……keep photographing.