Over 2011 and 2012, Normantas rambled through Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer, learning about the Banjara and Kalbelia tribes. He also travelled through East Hungary, profiling the Szabolcs-Szatmarberg gypsy community.
“I could walk in and have a cup of tea with the gypsies in Hungary because I spoke their language, but people in Rajasthan were sceptical,” he says. Little boys in Jodhpur would throw stones at him, they even broke his camera during “the colour festival”, but he didn’t mind because the outcome was worth it. “I learned about these ethnic groups, and even managed to catch some lovely expressions,” he says. His portraits capture the langour of old people and the innocence of children. “Old people and young children have stronger personalities and they aren’t afraid to show it,” he says. From over 2,500 pictures taken through his tours of the two countries, Normantas chose 50 for this exhibition.
His relationship with India began in 1991 when he started backpacking through north India, photographing the Buddhists in Ladakh and the Himalayas. During his travels, he learnt that large groups of gypsies from Europe migrated to India around the 14th century. “Eventually, I want to photograph gypsy communities of other European countries such as Slovakia, Romania and France. Brussels is my next stop,” he says.
For a photographer to spend 23 long years to create one photobook, fighting with the perils of publishing and bankruptcy, is no mean feat.
Paulius Normantas, who hails from East Hungary, began his tryst with photography in the early 90s when his eye for detail took him to Siberia.
More than a decade later, at the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre (HICC), Normantas creates rows of portraits born out of his fascination with gypsy villages in India and East Hungary. "I came to Tibet in 1989 to meet Dalai Lama. After that, I kept coming back to Bhutan, Nepal, Bhutan and India", says the blue-eyed Normantas.
The ongoing exhibition of about 100 back and white photographs comes across as a very well-researched collection.
Of course, after 14 photo books on Buddhism and minorities of Siberia, not to mention a 11-metre long book of Haiku that found place in the Guinness World Records, one acquires a certain aura of knowledge.
Mostly at ease in front of Normantas' Nikon film camera, in the exhibition titled 'With a Wandering Lens', his gypsy friends from Szablocs-Szatmar- Bereg County of Hungary are mostly kindergarten children or those plagued by old age.
Youngsters, if any are singers or dancers found on festival grounds. When it comes to India, Normantas has captured women, with their traditional jewellery.
"In East Hungary, the gypsy families are easy to identify. They don't mix with others", explains Normantas with the air of an academician.
In India Normantas remembers his experience in the villages of Udapur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer where he was sometimes chased by little boys or pelted with stones.
"Two museum owners in Rajasthan accompanied me to the village of Banjara gypsies in Jodhpur ", the photographer explains.
Normantas began his project on gypsies in the winter of 2011 and hopes to add three more countries and their gypsy history to his collection - Romania, Slovakia and France.
Three years in to the gypsy project, the photographer still exudes gusto. That is probably one good reason why his exhibition is worth a visit!
All images © Paulius Normantas