Amateur photo contest won with images of Romani people sparks hateful reactions on Czech internet
An amateur photography competition called "One Day in Přerov" was recently organized by that town in the Czech Republic, and of more than 20 submissions, the series capturing the life of Romani people there, taken by Iris Koppelhuber of Austria, won the award. The winning submission was chosen by visitors to the town's website, who voted for their favorites.
After the winner was announced, however, a wave of hatred was expressed online against the photographer and her subject matter. "Racist commentaries appeared immediately beneath the article [about the contest], it was an emotional explosion," Koppelhuber told news server Romea.cz.
"I have the feeling that it does not matter how much the Romani people here make an effort, something will always be found to criticize them for," she said. The amateur photographers were tasked with submitting five photographs taken on 31 May, an ordinary Thursday in the life of the town.
Kopplhuber is a student of sociology and thanks to her internship with the town's crime prevention assistants she had the opportunity to gain insight into the socially excluded localities there, to get to know the Romani community, and to follow what the work of a crime prevention assistant involves. Her involvement with the community was the reason she decided to capture the life of local Roma for the competition.
"I wanted there to be photographs of Romani people hanging at the town hall. I wanted people there to accept the local Roma as citizens of the town too," she explained to Romea.cz.
After a local resident pointed out that Koppelhuber holds a business license in the Czech Republic as a photographer, the town had to decide whether to declare her the winner or not because the competition was intended for amateurs. "A wave of annoyance about the outcome traveled through the online social networks," town hall spokesperson Lenka Chalupová told the Czech daily Mladá fronta DNES.
"People wrote to us, called us, and visited us in person at the town hall. They were bothered by the fact that they believed the photographer had broken the rules - many made no secret of their grievance that a series called 'Humans of Přerov‘ cannot depict the people of Přerov if it immortalizes just Romani people," the spokesperson told the daily.
Iris has confirmed that she does hold a Czech business license - as a native speaker of German she teaches the language in Olomouc, and because she was able to choose more than one activity for her license from the trade authority, she decided to also list photography just in case she were to be paid for that service and would have to report income from it. A total of 1 120 people voted for her photographs through the town's website.
Second place at 321 votes went to a set of photos by Jitka Přidalová. The second-place series won CZK 2 000 [EUR 78] and begins with a classic photo of duvets being aired out on a balcony in the morning, followed by photos of lunch - together with the dog - and ending with nightfall.
Third place at 173 votes went to a set of photographs by Lucie Studená. As it turns out, the first-place finisher was not the only contestant with a business license for photography.
Studená even officially offers her photography services through her own website. "Nobody cares that Lucie Studená also has a business license because she did not photograph Romani people," Koppelhuber speculates.
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