Commonly referred to as Gypsies, an estimated 10 million Roma are scattered across Europe. They have been persecuted throughout history, and as a result they often live in poverty and have trouble integrating into society.
“They’ve been downtrodden for so long that it’s extremely difficult for them to live normally and preserve their own culture at the same time,” Zimmer said.
While visiting Roma settlements, she saw children who attend segregated schools and musicians who struggle to afford their instruments. But she said she was struck by how optimistic many of the people were despite their hardships.
“Before I went, I thought about painted caravans and all sorts of romantic ideas of what a Gypsy is,” Zimmer said. “I hope my photographs are a more realistic portrayal of how they’re actually living and the problems they face.”
She was in Slovakia with her father, Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, as part of a fact-finding delegation put together by his philanthropic Remote Control Foundation and the National Democratic Institute.
As a fashion photographer, Zimmer said she’s used to having complete control over everything – from the lighting to how her subjects are standing. This was her first experience with documentary photography.
“It was really great for me to learn how to work under those conditions,” she said. “It was a great change of pace.”
An exhibit of the resulting work titled “Deserve Dignity” opens in West Hollywood on Saturday, coinciding with Human Rights Day.