Monday, March 10, 2014

Hasidic images displayed at Eastman House 

Pavel Wolberg attended a Hasidic wedding in Israel 15 years ago, and found his calling as a photographer in documenting rituals and religious traditions.

“A World Apart: Photographs of Hasidic Communities in Israel,” an exhibit of his works glimpsing some of the most meaningful moments of the private religious group, is on display at George Eastman House through May 25.

Wolberg, born in Leningrad, Russia, moved to Israel with his mother and grandmother when he was 9 years old.

After serving in the Israeli army, he chose photography as a career, working for a European press agency.

Before leaving Russia, he remembers visiting the Hermitage as a child to see art there, and he enjoyed painting when he was young. Pavel felt that photography was close to painting, so he chose the field to express his view of the world.

Weddings, funerals and religious holidays such as Purim and Tashlich caught his attention. Purim, a joyous holiday that celebrates the deliverance of Jews from a plot to eliminate them from Persia in the fourth century, is the one day when strict codes of behavior are suspended and participants dress up and masquerade in celebration.

Pavel captured the festivities of Purim — which is next weekend — in a series of images, including one of orthodox men dressed in colorful hats.

Pavel photographs a happy ritual in Pidyon Haben, Vitznitz Hasidim, Bnei Brak, 2011, a Jewish mitzvah in which a first-born son is placed on a table to represent his “redemption” from priesthood. The ceremony is preceeded by a feast organized by the father and must take place at least 30 days after the child’s birth. Pavel has presented the elaborate event as if it were a formal painting full of lush detail and deep, rich hues.

In his best works, he combines his photojournalism instincts to “get the story” quickly with painterly concerns that echo the classicism of the Renaissance. The result is vibrant, modern works that take the viewer into the action of the moment and offer much more than a news photo could convey.

His wedding images are perhaps the most intimate and beautiful of portrayals — studies into the hearts and minds of the participants. In a series of shots, Pavel shows not only how elaborate and full of tradition the rite of marriage is in Hasidic communities, but also how the individual and the tradition is viewed by the group. Wedding III, Taldot Aharan Hasidim, Brei Brak, 2012 is one example.

Each image, more compelling than the next, offers a glimpse into the private lives of members of this tight-knit religious community.


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