Birte Kaufmann (1981) lives and works as a freelance photographer in Köln.
“In my photographic work, I explore opposites such as freedom and isolation, the values and traditions of our Western society, and the structures and roles within communities. I seek to create a forcefulness through the condensation in the image between documentary photography and poetry that the viewer can not escape. The color and mood play a central role in my photography. I am looking for pictures that make a statement about the concrete phenomenon as well as further statements about our time and society. The awareness of how to meet people, cultures, and events is essential for my photography. Temporarily living with my protagonists and exposing myself to their world and get involved in it is part of my way of working. Building trust plays an essential role. I experience their world and so find my pictures. My curiosity about their life and to experience more allows me an empathic look behind the scenes. I do not pursue a linear narration, the individual images are like fragments assembling into a whole.”
Birte Kaufmann – The Travellers, 2011-2015
In Ireland, around 25,000 people still live in temporary settlements in the style of itinerant workers far removed from the amenities of Western civilisation. Moving from place to place in mobile homes without electricity and running water, the largest Catholic minority of the country is almost considered illegal, often maligned and faced with prejudices. Strangely out of step with 21st century lifestyle, they stick to their seemingly outdated traditions while also trying to find a new identity that fits in with modern society. Even in the present day, this ambiguity continues to define life for traveller community, whose livelihood depends on horse breeding and hunting and who keep their own language alive as part of their culture.
In 2011, the photographer Birte Kaufmann cautiously began to make contact with the travelling community, earning their trust and on some occasions living with them. For her portrayal of this unknown world, she needed to be in close contact with the families in order to capture their particular character and to avoid the usual stereotypes. Without a doubt, Birte Kaufmann’s combination of reportage and documentary photography hits the right note and offers impressive insights into an extraordinary world.
“My project gives insight into the everyday life of Ireland’s largest minority. This group has a nomadic origin, stemming from the tradition of migrant workers. They live in a kind of parallel world with rules all of its own and traditional gender roles, a world to which outsiders have little access and that is met with little acceptance by the Irish society. Some families live by the roadside illegally – mostly without electricity, running water or sanitation.
I travelled the first time in 2011 to Ireland with a VW bus. I wanted to capture their way of life. I didn’t want to romanticize them, but rather show their everyday life. A life where people still hunt rabbits and where horses play a vital role. But it is also a life that contains hardship and boredom from an early age. I have been in touch with one large family. Over time, I have gained their trust. Consequently, I was allowed to live with them so that my camera and I became part of their daily lives.”