No System 1999/2020

No System 1999/2020

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Photographs of the book, No System, Published by Steidl, 1999. Special thanks to Ben Graville.

Vinca Petersen interviewed by Sheryl Garratt

When the Criminal Justice Act became law in 1994, it felt like everything changed, massively. Amongst my friends, there was a collective feeling of, ‘Oh right. We’re going to have to leave England.’ And I was ready to leave.

Living in a truck, or in squats around Europe, there was a real sense of belonging, of possibility. I didn’t care about the mess, and the dirt. I liked the earthiness of it all. I loved the practicalities of travelling: finding somewhere to park for the night, finding water, going to a new supermarket to buy food and then all cooking together.

For me, it was all about a need for community. The parties were incidental, really, a way of earning money. Although it was great to just to dance all night, and have so many local people coming up to you saying, ‘This is wonderful, this is amazing!’

Looking at the pictures now, there’s something Other about them: a sense of space, of time paused. There are no screens, no iPhones. The whole travellers scene is quite intense, and people would criticise me for taking so many pictures: ‘You can’t live in the moment, because you’ve always got this thing between you and the moment.’ Because obviously, that’s what a photograph represents: a recording of the moment for another point in time. I used to struggle with that, but I also knew I was witnessing something amazing. So I was documenting it, but for myself, mainly, so I could remember it. And for my friends, but really not beyond that.

Then of course over the years, everyone started asking me for copies. I would make these funny little albums or boxes of photographs, and it was quite expensive. I couldn’t keep doing it. So in 1999 I collected them into a book, No System, and said it could be published on the condition that I designed it, sold for less than £10 so even a junkie could buy one, and I had to have free copies for anyone in it that wanted one.

After I put it together, I went back on the road for a year and just asked everyone in it for their permission. They all had the same reaction: ‘No, no, no! But… yes, if you give me one.’