Monday, October 1, 2012

On The Road: New Age Gypsies

I recently stumbled upon a fascinating book by Iain McKell that documents a tribe of modern gypsies living out their dreams in the heart of the English countryside.
(All photographs by Iain McKell from "The New Gypsies.")

They're the vestiges of a post-punk group of anti-Thatcherites who abandoned London in the 1980's in a quest to exist on their own terms.

Their lives are an eccentric mash-up of New Age beliefs, 19th century Romanticism and 21st century practicality. 

On one hand, they reject gasoline-fuelled vehicles in favor of horse-drawn caravans. 

On the other hand, they embrace solar power, laptops, cell phones and -- yes -- even Facebook.

McKell's photos are incredibly affecting. For me, much of the poeticism lies in the precariousness of their lifestyle.

They live with only what is necessary and not an ounce more. The richness of their lives comes from within.

But I can't help but worry about them a little. (Okay, maybe a lot.)

They're meta-conceptual pagans...

...Dickensian punk rocker-ruralists...

...and Vivienne Westwood-y tartaned nomads.

They've found the open road, all right, but it's a long and difficult and bumpy one.

So here's the question: Is that what makes it all the sweeter?


pve design said...

There has always been roguery associated with gypsies but it does have a certain bad boy attraction to me. If there is a shower, count me in.
I do hope there will be some characters so full of intrigue and adventure in your book.

Terra said...

These photos make a powerful statement, and the people are all beautiful in their distinctive styles. Of course I love horses so that makes the caravan life style somewhat appealing. I prefer my home, though.

Lily said...

What gorgeous photos! Any sort of exile seems romantic but there's always a price to pay... There are many gypsy souls like this living on sailboats too, with one book, one frock, one teacup and the endless sea and sky. There are good lessons to be learned from whittling down possessions but great pleasure can be taken in them too! I'm just in the phase of relishing a bathub and a tower of books and the decadence of electricity!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Roguery just might be the best word EVER. It implies everything I want to be.


I'm with you! xx

CK said...

These are strikingly gorgeous photos. I am struck by something, however. This kind of free-and-easy life is only possible in a society that takes care of its weakest (or freest members). In the UK all of these lovely free spirits are covered by national health care.

I've often felt that those who are opposed to generalized health care not tied to employment are missing the fact that it would free up many of our most creative and entrepreneurial citizens to do what we do best--if we didnt' need to worry about where our insurance is coming from. But these kinds of gypsy bands are probably exactly what those anti-health care people are afraid of.

JudyMac said...

I was intrigued by the word "roguery," and so I had to check it out. Google describes it as "conduct characteristic of a rogue, especially acts of dishonesty or playful mischief." Hmmmm. My concern would be for the children of these gypsies. Do they look happy? Maybe. But maybe they've yet to know there's anything different out there in our big, beautiful world.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Your comment is exactly the kind of one I hoped this post would inspire. Thank you.

Bonus points to you for posting the dictionary definition of "roguery"! I guess I was thinking more of "roguish" when I commented and I bet PVE was know, cheeky, mischievous impish, etc.

And yes, the photos are haunting in both their beauty and their underlying sadness. I can't stop thinking about those children either.

Ramesh Gandhi said...
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Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I was just reading about this book today in The Daily Mail. That one blonde child just stole my heart. Sometimes I think about what it must be like to unstick oneself from conventional life. But I do so like my clawfoot tub.

P. M. Doolan said...

There are a number of them who live in West Cork, Ireland, as well. Meanwhile, a collection of Roma were burnt out of their homes in Marseilles, France last week when they were attacked by local residents.

the Frugal Ecologist said...

wow, these photographs are incredible. and yes, there is a haunting sort of vulnerability to them. especially the children. Thanks for sharing.

Megan Taylor said...

Wow! The "artful dodger" kills me. All of these pictures are fascinating -- happy you stumbled upon that book! xoMegan

the veg artist said...

These are not genuine gypsies, but people who have chosen to live an alternative lifestyle. In the UK, they are entitled to a weekly basic rate of benefit (cash) for each family member as well as free health care. Given that their outgoings are so low, I imagine that they are able to manage quite well.
I have met many people who chose to live an alternative life, although not many with caravans and horses - in the 1980s it was common to see an old bus or van that had a chimney sticking out of it - and they gravitated to the wilder parts of the UK.
On CK's point, I know that many people were against them for scrounging off the state, but actually they claimed far less in benefits than those in comfortable homes who had everything paid for - rent or mortgage as well as their weekly benefits, and as many extras as the UK's Social Security system would allow. In some families this amounted to way more than locally available earnings.

Unknown said...

I've seen this book before. I'm glad to see you found it and appreciate it and what these people are doing. I'd guess there are many reasons why they'd rather live this simpler life, closer to the earth and always traveling. They're attachment is to the tribe and the way of life. They've learned to let go of everything else. But yes, I too hope they're okay and worry a little bit about them. Lots of admiration for what they do and how they live.

littleaugury said...

we tend to glamourize these images and while they are beautiful-I too worry about what their lives are like. I like to imagine being that "free" yet the comforts of home however humble appeal to me more. the children are dear-and though certainly Not-the winsome blonde could be yours.

LeeAnn at Mrs Black's said...

The photographs are stunning and the people beautiful and beautifully put together. For certain being that free is a different world, scary to me and probably mine is scary to them. Agree the UK support system helps them to be free, but while living like this is romantic during the summer, not so much in winter. I worry about them too and with all of the homeless and lack of future this may be the only future for many.

Michelle said...

Raised by hippies, not gypsies, I lived a long and difficult and bumpy road and didn't find it too sweet. I rebelled and became a city girl. Thankfully, however, I have since seen the err of my ways and found a happy medium. The life of a gypsie is appealing though, but only if you're in Europe. It doesn't hold the same romance here in the states, especially in the midwest. I'd almost become a gypsie, if I could wear those wellies. But I worry about the showering. I remember being drug along camping as a child and it was rough. My college age son could do it though. I'm showing him this post. He'd fit right in with those gypsies. Now that I think about it, my ancestors are Welsh. Perhaps it's genetic.

Unknown said...

There are so many ways to live a life. I often have wondered about alternatives myself, changes towards a more reduced lifestyle, without the fancies, we often believe we can't do without.
Yet, having come from a humble background, the urge to"make it" in a more traditional sense is still stronger...Whatever that means. But what connects me to these people is the sense of individualism and
I do admire them in their strive for honesty and authenticity, yet I also wonder about the children, who are brought into a way of life, not chosen by themselves. I often have difficulties with the fact that the ones going into the life they feel like living, might take exactly that chance away from the next generation. Are these kids schooled? Will they ever be able to choose for themselves and what will become of them?
But these are perhaps secondary questions and I agree I am intrigued by these proud and individual people, with their strong sense of style. But romanticism? I am not so sure, this life must still be hard on a day to day base.
And these photographs are amazing and beautiful!

Unknown said...

The photos are very romantic, very glamorous, but I suspect the reality of daily life to be very different. I worry greatly for the future of the children -- the choice their parents have made to live outside society's norm will limit their options as adults -- there will always be exceptions, but when I look at the children I see a generation with little but welfare and public assistance as their fate.

jagitana said...

lovely blog.

Susan S said...

Oh, hell no! I might be able to live that life for one week, but I covet warmth and clean water. I can see communal living and homesteading, but not wandering and (what could be) uncertainty.

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

Why is everyone so worried about the children? I think they are having a wonderful learning experience without the oppression and boredom of the school system. They are learning survival and the ways of nature. Yes, it is an extreme way of living, but they are free.

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Linda said...

These highly romanticized pictures of art-directed hippies look like they are from a 1960s fashion magazine. Smoke and mirrors. This is a fantasy.

For a glance at reality, I suggest that you explore what actually happens to UK villages when the "new age travelers" come to town and set up camp. It's not pretty and it is not art directed.

Anonymous said...
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debbie bailey said...

I don't think you really want to be full of roguery. The definition for that is: Reckless or malicious behavior that causes discomfort or annoyance in others.

It sounds exciting like 'piracy', but no civilized person would REALLY want to steal, maim, or kill. It's the romance of the thing that appeals. The tossing off of the present life in search of adventure.

The trick is how to have a comfortable life that's full of everyday adventure, and that will look different to every person according to their worldview and belief system.

While I agree with several of your commenters, I believe that Linda has hit it on the head. I also believe that everyone should pay their own way in life. I believe what the Bible and Captain John Smith says is true, "If a man won't work, neither let him eat." If he's unable to work, then that's where charities come into the picture. The church has traditionally taken care of the needs in the community. Or neighbor helping neighbor.

Why should some of the population have to be taxed in order to support and keep up others? They shouldn't. What have artists always done? They had patrons; individuals who were wealthy and believed in what the artist was doing to support their work. They weren't coerced but gave freely to what they saw as beneficial. I support our town's local art center as do many others in the community by our freely given donations.

The photos were fascinating, though as is your blog. It's my favorite out of all the ones I read.


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