Photographer Iain McKell first became acquainted with new age travelers 25 years ago on an assignment for the London Observer. Calling themselves the “Peace Convoy,” a group of rebels fed up with Margaret Thatcher fled London for greener pastures, set up camp at festivals, and squatted in the countryside. McKell developed a fascination with these rootless wanderers, and for 10 years, he’s been following a small group of them throughout Europe. The result of his work is a book called The New Gypsies, a stunning collection of intimate photographs of this traveler subculture.
McKell’s subjects look like characters from a contemporary fairytale: a little girl wears a puff-sleeved lavender princess dress with velvet and fur trimmings; a man in a tattered top hat sits on an overturned bucket next to a bonfire; a mother and daughter wear garlands in their hair. In the best way possible, they all convey a distinct sense of the witchy and the wizardly—one even wears a pointed blue wizard’s hat.
These travelers are unrelated to the Roma, the ethnic group scattered across Europe that are often called gypsies. McKell’s subjects are people who have chosen to abandon mainstream lifestyles in favor of nomadic ones, traveling in old-timey horse-drawn caravans, painted with whimsical designs. Though they eschew gas-guzzling cars, many welcome other forms of modern tech, owning cell phones and laptops and maintaining social networking accounts. Their income often comes from odd jobs, busking, or farm work, but never from an office career. The British media and popular culture often depicts gypsies as lawless, and more mainstream people might mistrust their anti-establishment ways, but McKell portrays them in all their humanity and individuality. These are people who have actually acted on fantasies many of us entertain, of running away and escaping the trappings of modern urban life. McKell shows us what that fantasy looks like in reality.