For my thirteenth birthday, my stepfather gave me a camera. I had just arrived in New York City without any spoken English, but his gift enabled me to begin to communicate with the world through images. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion.
Now, I am a professional photographer, one who has spent her life in a mix of cultures. I work primarily in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as a wedding photographer.
During a Hasidic wedding, as in most of their daily activities, men and women are separated; it is my job to photograph the women.
Though the Hasidic community inspires the curiosity of outsiders, I cannot display my pictures publicly; concealment of femininity is integral to their lives. Therefore, I find creative ways of showing these images. To maintain their modesty, I use artful methods of concealing the women’s faces. I am put in the awkward position of representing this invisible group, simultaneously concealing and revealing the lives of Hasidic women who are not allowed to be seen in the outside world, or within their own community.
Separation of the sexes is the basis of their way of life, and although I am uncomfortable around such extreme inequality, I feel privileged to be allowed into this exclusive world. As a secular Jew, Hasidism has always been foreign to me, but as I record one of the most important moments of their lives, being accepted by them — however briefly — has been a revelation.
Weddings are central to the community’s life. In the secular world, people socialize at bars, clubs etc. — all places forbidden to this group. Weddings are celebrated everyday, except on the Sabbath and are gathering places where men and women, separated by the “mechitzah” (movable wall), dance, drink and enjoy themselves. An unspoken sexual tension fills the air. A boy is to become a man, and a virginal bride, a woman.
A striking element in the wedding is when the bride is covered by an opaque veil by her future husband before the ceremony, which is removed after she is married. My series on the veiled bride portrays her most vulnerable moments — I have wondered what she is thinking, hidden and alone during those twenty minutes that mark her transition from girlhood to a wife, married to a man she hardly knows.
My series on hands emerges from the same issue of concealment/revelation. I discovered the fascinating effects of hands communicating feelings — and, however unconsciously, sensuality.
In their separation from men, women develop close relationships. I have illustrated this woman-to-woman closeness and noted that these intimate moments of women clinging to one another goes beyond the Hasidic world. By removing all specific context from the images, I illustrate the primal connection between all women.
In those rare quiet moments, I talk to the children, the brides’ friends — older teens often engaged to be married — and their mothers, and have published these bits of conversation on my blog. They reveal a different world — hidden, vulnerable and yet their celebrations are exultant. Their joys and deep connections are essential to their way of life.
Ghila Krajzman was born in Israel and moved to Belgium at age 3. She has been working full time as a photographer in the Hasidic community for the past 10 years.