The Gypsies of Queens

A few months ago while sitting alone in the waiting room at the Romanian consulate in NYC (for reasons I’ll go into some other time), a man walked in and asked me to read something for him on a piece of paper. He explained his eyes weren’t very good. I happily did so and reassured him he was in the right room according to what it said. We started talking while we waited and it turns out his name is George and he is a Gypsy from Romania who has lived in New York for about 20 years. He is actually the Gypsy Baron for all of North America. That means he is their leader and judge in any disputes within the Gypsy community. I was intrigued and we ended up having dinner a few weeks later at a Romanian restaurant in Queens. One thing led to another and a few months after that I was invited to shoot portraits of the Gypsy community who live in Queens at George’s birthday party.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. George told me the party would go from 8pm to 8am. So I got to the restaurant with my assistant to set up at 6:30pm. The place was totally dead. As in, the waitresses were eating in the corner. But it was early. We got everything setup by 7:30pm and were ready to go. Still dead. 8:30pm, no one. At 9:30 we decide to have dinner since the kitchen seems open although nobody was there yet. At 10:30pm the band arrived to set up. George walks in with about 5 people around 11pm which was certainly reassuring since we were starting to wonder if we were at the right place. At 11:30pm about 100 Gypsies arrive seemingly all at once and head directly to the dance floor. The party was definitely on. For about half an hour there was a bit of a staring match as everyone was wondering what I was doing with my setup in the corner. So I found George and asked him to make an announcement saying I was there to take free pictures. He just casually leaned over to the person sitting next to him and said something and suddenly my photo set was mobbed. I photographed nonstop until about 3am when I think I shot everyone in the room probably twice as they were lined up 10 deep at one point. Great fun.

I had no idea what was going to happen before the party. The word “Gypsy” certainly comes with a lot of preconceptions for us all. What are the Gypsies like in NYC? How many are there? Where do they live? How do they dress? Traditionally or is it all GAP and Rocca Wear? I don’t have the answers to all the questions but it was a pleasure to hang with them and I am very grateful they would allow me into their world for a night and let me photograph them. Here are a few of the pictures but to see the rest of the series click here.

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