Thank you notes by ofir barak

I would like to thank this following people for helping me succeed in my journey -

Christine Allen , Michael Alvarez-Pereyre , Jeffrey Ashbrook , Yael Barak Aviram , Cassif Barak , Eitan Barak , Mazal Bonjack (R.I.P) , Miki Barak , Sara Barak , Saar Barak ,Tal Bonjack , Tomer Bonjack , Tzion Bonjack , Guy Brenner , Pawel Brzuszek , Finn Calander , Jim Casper , Deric Ch'ng , Lim Swee Cheng , Peter Cooper , Andrea Cseh-Wehrer , Oded Degany , Eva Depoorter , Jessie Dinan , Zuhal Erdem , Jean-Marc Ferriere , Oded Fluss , Jill Freedman , Mimi Fuenzalida , Renata Ginzburg , Leighton Gleicher , Robert Glickman , Christian Gohdes , David Goldstein , Daniela Golan , Ilan Goren , Eyal Gozlan , Noy Barak Gozlan , Kseniya Holomyansky , Lee Kearns , Danja Keesing , Alex Kumshatsky , Sarah levy , Aviad Levy , Ori Levy , Tova Levy , Patrick McDonald , Tarraga Miller , Carlies Mol , Lassri Myriam , Alexandre Nacache , Yaniv Nadav , Uri Nafav , Kyun Ngui , Elad Orenstein , Eric Pathi , Jan Perlich , Paul Schneller , Tobias Schult , Michael Schütze , Jimmy Sng , Patrawin Vanichstaporn , C. Waimei , Omer Yair , Tang Chee Yong , Jae Yoon .

ראיון עבור ״צילום תרבויות צילום בעולם״ by ofir barak

עודד וגנשטיין

ע.ו: בעולם הצילום הדוקומנטרי קיים המושג "אקסס" המציין את היכולת של צלם לקבל כניסה לעולם סגור ומסוגר. אתה הצלחת להיכנס לאחד העולמות הכי מסוגרים בישראל. איך עשית זאת? תאר את התהליך. האם השתמשת בעוזרים מבפנים?

א.ב: המושג שציינת מכיל בתוכו רעיון רחב אך בעיקר אני מוצא אותו רלוונטי לתקופה המורכבת בה אנו חיים. מצד אחד, האינטרנט חולל שינוי מעמיק ומאפשר גישה מאוד נוחה להסתכלות והצצה לחיי האחר. אנשים משתפים ומחפשים לשתף את הפרטיות שלהם באופן מתגבר עם זרים ברשתות החברתיות השונות. נראה כי כולם נמצא תמיד במירוץ - להשיג יותר עוקבים לאינסטאגרם, יותר חברים בפייסבוק יותר צופים ביוטיוב וכו אך מצד שני, אפשר לראות רגרסיה בנושא הפרט בהשוואה לתקופות אחרות כאשר מסתובבים בחוץ עם מצלמה (קלאסית). אז המצולמים מרגישים שהמצלם פולש לפרטיותם. שני הקטבים שציינתי קודם, זהים במובן אחד המקשה על הצלם (הקלאסי) לבצע את ״עבודתו״.
אזור ואוכלוסיית מאה שערים שונה ממה שציינתי, כיוון שאוכלוסיית המקום היא חלק מחברה סגורה יותר בהשוואה אלינו שנאבקת באופן תמידי בכל הקדמה הטכנולוגית. 
כשניגשתי לפרויקט ״מאה שערים - הרחובות״ בשנת 2014, נתקלתי בגילויי דחייה קשים. בכל פעם שהרמתי את המצלמה הרגשתי מבטי סלידה שדיכאו את הרצון שלי לצלם. ברוב הפעמים הראשונות פשוט וויתרתי אחרי כמה ניסיונות ועזבתי את האזור. החשיבה הראשונית שלי הייתה שאצטרך לבלוט פחות במקום ולנסות ולהשתלב חיצונית. שיניתי את המראה שלי ולבשתי שחורים. אפילו גידלתי זקן ארוך. השינוי העיקרי חל כשהתחלתי לאכול באזור, אט אט הסתגלתי למקום וגיבשתי תחושת ביטחון. 
בראיה לאחור, אני מניח כי אין הדבר קשור לצורה החיצונית בה נראיתי או התלבשתי אלא לתחושת הביטחון האישי שלי והדבקות במטרה. שני אלה אפשרו לי לנוע יותר בחופשיות במקום ולהעז ולהמשיך גם לאחר הכישלונות הראשונים שהיו לי.

ע.ו: העבודות בספר ״מאה שערים - הרחובות״ באמת מאפשרות לקבל מושג רחב ומקיף על החיים בשכונה: חלונות הראווה, מנהגי החגים, השלטים המקומיים וכ"ו. בעת העבודה על הפרויקט, האם הייתה לך איזושהי אסטרטגיה לגבי האופן שבו תכסה את השכונה? האם עבדת עם רשימה של שוטינג ליסט (תכנון מקדים של התמונות) או שפשוט שיטוט חסר תכנון שהתבסס אחר כך לסדרה?

א.ב: עוד לפני שהתחלתי לצלם את הפרויקט ידעתי כי בסופו הוא יגובש לספר. הידיעה הזאת מאוד תרמה למחויבות ליסודיות. חילקתי את העבודה לכמה נושאים והדבר הראשון שהגדרתי הוא כמות הזמן שארצה לעבוד על כל נושא. בפרויקט ב סדר גודל כזה (תיעוד של אזור גאוגרפי במשך תקופה), קל מאוד ללכת לאיבוד עם הנושא ולהתחיל לחזור על עצמך.
מצאתי שרישום מוקדם של הנושאים, עוזר לי להציג את האזור של מאה שערים במלואו ולא סתם לשוטט ללא מטרה בחיפוש אחר תמונות. שיטוט ללא מטרה אכן יוביל לתמונות שלא תכננת ואך גם אם תתכנן וגם אם לא, תמונות אלו יגיעו בכל מקרה. הרשימה שלי כללה נושאים ותתי נושאים של מאה שערים על מנת ליצור גיוון. רשימה כזאת אפשרה לי לצלם לאורך זמן ללא תחושת מיאוס. בכל יום לפני הצילום הייתי בוחר או נושאים שונים אותם הייתי מחליף בנושאים אחרים בעת מועד הצילום הבא. כשהייתי מצלם תמונה שהייתי שלם איתה, הנושא היה נמחק ובכך הרשימה הייתה מצטמצמת בכל פעם. היתרון ברשימה כזאת היא גם למלאכת העריכה הסופית - דבר הקשה בפני עצמו.

ע.ו: בחרת לצלם בשחור לבן. מדוע? מה היו ההתלבטויות בנושא זה?

א.ב: בראיה לאחור אני מניח שהסיבה העיקרית בה בחרתי בשחור לבן הייתה כיוון שאני מגיע מתחום הרישום והאיור. במהלך שנת 2014, איבדתי את החשק לצייר, משהו פשוט השתנה. הייתי מתוסכל תקופה והחלטתי לחיפוש דרך חדשה בה אוכל להביע את עצמי. לאחר שניסיתי את המצלמה, כל האלמנטים שלמדתי בעבר - קומפוזיציה, פרספקטיבה ואפילו תאוריות צבע מצאו מחדש את מקומם והמעבר היה קל. אני מרגיש שהצילום והיצירה בשחור לבן מאפשר לי להביע את עצמי באופן המלא, הנכון ביותר ושנשען על המקורות שלי.

ע.ו: תוכל לספר סיפור ספציפי על דמות מעניינת או מפגש מרתק שקרה לך בזמן הצילומים? משהו שאולי הפתיע אותך.

א.ב: עבודה על פרויקט דוקומנטרי ב סדר גודל כזה היא חוויה כוללת שבמהלכה אתה נתקל באנשים בעלי סיפור חיים שונה משלך. אתה עובר תהליך ובסופו אתה אינו אותו אדם כפי שהיית בתחילתו של התהליך. כך גם היה עבורי. בשנה וחצי הראשונות, נתקלתי בהרבה מקרים בהם ראיתי עצבות, דיכוי נשים וכאב. ואולי היה לי יותר קל לצלם את זה. כך גם ערכתי לראשונה את הספר בטיוטה הראשונית שלו. כשעברתי על הטיוטה שוב ושוב, היה לי ממש קשה לקבל ש אלו הדברים שהצלחתי לראות באזור ושנצמדתי באיזה מובן לנרטיב הקיים של זה שמסתכל מבחוץ על "האחר" ולמעשה שופט את אורח חייו. החלטתי לגרוס את הטיוטה הראשונית ולחזור לאותם רחובות ולהקפיד לצלם אירועים חיוביים המדגישים שמחה, משפחתיות ופרצי אושר קטנים. אחת התמונות הראשונות שסימלו עבורי את השינוי וגם מופיעה בספר היא תמונה של ילד קטן הקופץ ברחוב ממזרן למזרן. התפאורה היא אותה תפאורה שצילמתי פעמים רבות קודם - בתי רעפים, כביסה תלויה ומבנה משולב של אבן ופח. אך הפעם, בשונה מפעמים קודמות, המצולם מחייך אלי. אני זוכר שחייכתי אליו ארוכות ושלא היה אכפת לי אם לא אצלם את התמונה, כי צילמתי אותה בזיכרון.  אבל אחרי כמה שניות, כשישבתי על הרצפה והתבוננתי בו ללא הפסקה, החלטתי להרים את המצלמה. לילד זה לא הפריע והוא המשיך לקפוץ ממזרן אחד לשני ולחייך אלי. ישבתי שם וחשבתי לעצמי שסוף סוף הצלחתי לראות דוגמה לרגע שלא הצלחתי לראות קודם לכן. אני מניח שהיו המון רגעים שמחים אבל פשוט הייתי אטום לראות אותם.

ע.ו: מה מקורות ההשראה שלך? צלמים שאתה אוהב?

א.ב: הרשימה שלי ארוכה מאוד וכוללת בתוכה את צלמי ״מגנום״ כמו אנרי קרטייה ברסון, ג'וזף קודלקה, מיכה בר עם, אבבס וכו. אבל יש צלם אחד שהיווה לי השראה במהלך כל הפרויקט של ״מאה שערים - הרחובות״ והוא רוברט פרנק והספר ״האמריקאים״ (“The Americans”). כשהתחלתי לצלם, קראתי הרבה וחיפשתי מקורות השראה. נתקלתי במאמר על ״האמריקאים״ והזמנתי אותו. כשהספר הגיע, אני זוכר שהייתי כל כך המום מהעבודה שלא הצלחתי לעכל את זה. בימים הבאים התחלתי לעבור על הספר בשלבים. התחלתי לצרוך כל מה שמצאתי על הפרויקט מסרטונים, מהדורות מפורטות (“Looking in - robert frank’s the americans”) וממש הפכתי אובססיבי. כל פעם התעמקתי עוד ועוד קורא את כל הטקסטים והאותיות הקטנות. פסגת האושר שלי הייתה כשהצלחתי לרכוש את אחד העותקים של מהמהדורה המיוחדת שייצר בית הדפוס היפני יוגנשה (Yugensha) של הקונטקט שיטס של ״האמריקאים״. הייתי יושב ומסתכל בהם שעות כל פעם לפני שיצאתי לאזור. אני חושב שה״אמריקאים״ עזר לי לא רק באופן הטכני של הצילום אלה גם באופן של גיבוש רעיון לפרויקט צילום והעריכה.

ע.ו: לסיום, מה הפרויקט הבא?

א.ב: כשהתחלתי לעבוד על ״מאה שערים - הרחובות״ היה לי חשוב לתת תמונה מלאה של האזור, האנשים והדת היהודית. כשסיימתי לערוך את המהדורה הסופית של הספר, הבנתי כי זהו למעשה רק הפרק הראשון בנושא רחב יותר של דת בירושלים. בשנה וחצי האחרונות המשכתי לתיעוד הדת הנוצרית בירושלים (על כל הזרמים בה). אני מאמין כי ספר על הפרויקט הזה יראה אור בשנתיים הקרובות. בשנים הבאות אני מקווה להמשיך ולהוציא כרך שלישי ואחרון בנוגע לדת האסלאם בירושלים ובכך לחתום את הפרויקט הכולל בנושא ״עיר האלוהים״.

INTERVIEW FOR "Graine de photographe" by ofir barak

By Aude Prost.

A l’occasion de la sortie de son livre « Mea Shearim – the streets » qui retrace son magnifique projet photo dans les rues de Mea Shearim, le photographe Ofir Barak a accepté de répondre à nos questions au cours d’une interview enrichissante et fascinante.

Découvrez en plus sur ce talentueux photographe et son incroyable série photo en noir et blanc dans les rues de Mea Shearim – un quartier ultra-orthodoxe de Jérusalem où le temps semble s’être arrêté.  

Pouvez-vous présenter ? Comment avez-vous débuté la photographie ?

Mon nom est Ofir Barak, et je suis un photographe de Jérusalem, Israël.
Je pense qu’une décision prise par une personne est souvent due à une suite d’événements qui le font arriver à une certaine conclusion. La photographie a bercé mon enfance. Mon père et mon grand-père emportaient toujours des appareils photo lors des vacances en famille. Mais c’est l’âge adulte qui m’a de nouveau mené vers la photographie. L’idée pour mon projet sur les rues de Mea Shearim a été le résultat d’une réflexion qui avait commencé depuis longtemps et de la perte d’une personne aimée.

Tout à commencé dans une quête pour trouver un moyen de m’exprimer à travers l’art. Au fond, je suis un peintre. C’était ce qui me passionnait ; c’est ce que j’aimais faire. Mais il y a eu une période, qui a duré plusieurs mois, où j’ai manqué de motivation pour créer. J’étais frustré et j’ai décidé de trouver une nouvelle voie pour m’exprimer. J’ai pensé que voyager quelque part à la recherche de réponses pourrait m’aider à me remettre les idées en places. Il était clair pour moi que pour trouver un autre moyen d’expression, j’avais besoin de m’entourer de toutes les formes d’arts que je pouvais trouver – littérature, poésie, peinture, architecture, etc. Je me suis souvenu que les musées de Washington D.C sont gratuits, et j’ai donc décidé d’y aller. Chaque jour, je me rendais dans un musée différent et je profitais des différentes galeries d’art. Un jour, par erreur, je suis entrée du mauvais côté dans l’exposition de Garry Winogrand – par la sortie. Je ne savais pas qui était le photographe, mais j’ai été frappé par ses images. A ce moment là, j’ai eu une épiphanie. C’est ce que je voulais faire. J’ai passé deux heures dans la galerie, jusqu’à ce que je réalise que je ne pouvais pas tout absorber en une fois. Je suis revenu trois fois de plus pour profiter et en apprendre plus de ce photographe en me concentrant à chaque fois sur une photographie différente. Dans l’exposition, il y avait aussi une petite salle de projection avec sa célèbre allocution à l’université Rice. A chacune de mes visites, je prenais un carnet avec moi et je m’asseyais dans un coin de la pièce et tandis qu’il parlait, je notais des petites anecdotes de ce que je voulais réaliser et comment y arriver.

Le deuxième événement qui m’a poussé à devenir photographe a été la perte de ma grand-mère. Nous avions un lien spécial et nous avions pour routine hebdomadaire de discuter de mes photographies. Début 2014, sa santé a commencé a se détériorer et nous avons du réduire ces sessions, jusqu’à ce que finalement elle soit hospitalisée. Lors d’une de mes visites, tandis que nous étions sur son lit, je voulais soulager son esprit des traitements et je lui ai demandé si elle souhaitait voir une photo que j’avais prise la veille. Elle a immédiatement dit oui, et a été très enthousiaste quand je lui ai montré la photographie. Nous avons analysé la photo comme nous avions l’habitude de le faire, effaçant de notre esprit la chambre d’hôpital dans laquelle nous étions, profitant de ce moment et de la compagnie de l’autre. Aucun d’entre nous ne savait que cela serait notre dernier moment ensemble. Après sa mort, j’ai décidé de réaliser un projet basé sur cette dernière photo que je lui ai montré.

– Qu’est-ce que Mea Shearim ? Et comment avez-vous eu l’idée de photographier et documenter ses rues et ses habitants ? 

Fondé en 1874, Mea Shearim est l’un des 5 premiers quartiers juifs construit hors des murs de la vieille ville de Jérusalem.
Son nom est tiré d’un verset de la Torah et correspondait à la Parasha de la semaine lue à la synagogue la semaine où fut créé le quartier : « Isaac sema en cette terre-là, et il recueillit cette année-là le centuple (Mea Shearim), car Dieu le bénit. » (Genèse 26:12). 
Mea Shearim reste aujourd’hui fidèle à ses vieilles coutumes et préserve son isolement dans le cœur de Jérusalem en essayant de conjurer le monde moderne ; il est en un sens, gelé dans le temps. Les maisons qui ont été construites il y a plus de 100 ans sont debout à côté des nouvelles. La vie de la communauté Hassidique tourne autour de l’observation stricte de la loi juive, de la prière et de l’étude de textes religieux. Le style vestimentaire traditionnel pour les hommes et les garçons est composé de redingotes noires et de chapeaux noirs. De longues barbes couvrent leurs visages et beaucoup ont des boucles sur les côtés que l’on nomme « papillotes ». Les femmes et les filles sont sommées de porte ce que l’on considère comme des robes sobres  – la longueur du genou ou des jupes plus longues, aucune blouse sans manches ou d’épaules nues. Les femmes mariées portent des couvre-chefs variés, des chapeaux aux perruques en passant par des foulards.

Je suis d’accord avec la supposition qui dit que le meilleur endroit pour faire des photos est dans sa propre arrière-cour. La proximité géographique avec votre sujet est très importante puisqu’elle vous permet de le visiter régulièrement et de documenter les changements qui peuvent avoir lieu. Mais cette situation peut aussi présenter des difficultés, car vous n’aurez pas un « regard neuf », et votre vision pourra être bloquée puisque le sujet vous est familier. C’est une tache très dure au fond, puisque l’image que vous prenez représente votre point de vue, et vous devez travailler dur pour le changer.
Cela a été le cas avec « Mea Shearim » et j’ai dû passer par un processus pour séparer ce que je connais de ce que j’ai vu. J’ai vécu la majeure partie de ma vie à Jérusalem, j’avais donc eu le temps de me faire une opinion sur la population Hassidique. Point de vue qui a été influencé pendant des années par les médias et leur spécificité de vie en tant que groupe, comme le plus célèbre, le non-enrôlement pour l’IDF [Israel Defense Forces] à l’âge de 18 ans (tous les autres résidents juifs de l’État d’Israël sont soumis au service militaire obligatoire).

Pour ce projet, j’ai voulu passer au-dessus de ma perception et simplement essayer de voir l’endroit et ses habitants. Le plus gros défi que j’ai eu a été l’édition du livre. L’édition est toujours la partie la plus compliquée lorsqu’on réalise un livre, car il faut être précis et faire des modifications sévères. Ajoutez à cela que j’avais rassemblé entre 10 000 et 13 000 images à choisir. C’était même la tâche la plus dure. 

Quand j’ai commencé, j’ai vu que le résultat était très politique – des protestations contre le gouvernement, la dépression des femmes et la suprématie des hommes. J’ai été déçu et je n’ai pas voulu accepter que ceci pût être tout ce que j’avais vu dans Mea Shearim, je n’ai pas voulu accepter l’influence du récit que nous connaissons tous et que je vous ai exposé plus tôt. J’ai dû m’effacer, pour permettre à l’image de devenir plus forte et j’ai décidé de laisser tomber cette version et je suis reparti à la recherche de nouvelles images. De cette période, j’ai rassemblé plus de 2 000 photos qui contenaient des bonnes choses – des sentiments positifs, les expressions de joie et principalement les choses humaines que je n’avais pas essayées de trouver en premier lieu. La forme actuelle du livre représente un équilibre entre les bons et mauvais événements de la vie quotidienne de ses habitants, comme c’est le cas pour l’ensemble des gens.

Comment avez fait pour accéder à ce quartier et réaliser ces photos ? 

Tout dans la vie demande de la patience, de la persistance et de l’attitude et c’est ainsi qu’a été mon approche à Mea Shearim. La communauté de Mea Shearim est évidemment plus fermée que d’autres sociétés libérales. Ils sont en batailles constantes et essayent de contrer la révolution numérique qu’ils considèrent comme créant une distance entre eux et la religion.
Quand j’ai débuté ce projet en 2014, je marchais dans la zone avec mon appareil photo et les regards que j’obtenais des résidents quand je levais mon appareil photo à mes yeux était très désagréable. Cela me démotivait. La plupart du temps, je faisais demi-tour après avoir pris 2 3 photos. Je me suis rendu compte que je devais moins apparaître comme un étranger si je souhaitais capturer la vie de cette communauté correctement – j’ai dû m’intégrer. J’ai commencé à modifier mon apparence et mes vêtements en conséquence. En visitant Mea Shearim, de jour comme de nuit, je portais uniquement du noir et je me lui laissé pousser une longue barbe. J’ai même commencé à manger régulièrement dans le quartier. Je me suis lentement adapté et je me suis libéré de ma timidité et de ma crainte. J’ai adopté l’endroit et d’une façon ou d’une autre l’endroit m’a adopté – les gens ont commencé à s’approcher et à poser des questions sur ma présence. J’ai fait face à toutes sortes de réactions – certains m’ont menacé, on a voulu casser mon appareil photo ou encore pire, mais la majorité était juste curieuse et ils m’ont laissé réaliser mon projet. Certains ont même voulu m’aider à expliquer l’endroit, ils m’ont montré des choses uniques ou m’ont présenté à d’autres personnes qui souhaitaient m’aider, c’est devenu une chose.

– Quelle est la photo dont vous êtes le plus fier ? (Et pour quelle(s) raison(s) ?)

Les meilleures images sont celles qui vous font réagir, qui vont provoquer chez vous des émotions. Elles laissent certains entrevoir des choses que d’autres ne peuvent pas voir et font vivre une expérience unique à chacun. J’ai beaucoup de favoris en ce qui concerne la composition ou le sujet, mais une image est cher à mon cœur, c’est l’unique image du projet que grand-mère a vu avant de décéder.
C’est la toute première photo que j’ai prise d’un clochard en train de mendier dans les rues de Mea shearim . Cette image est pour moi le dernier souvenir de ma défunte grand-mère et symbolise le nouveau départ que j’ai pris. Pour moi, c’est une image qui tient tant de la fin que du commencement.

- Quelles sont vos principales inspirations pour ce projet ?

La liste de mes influences et inspirations est très large, et évidemment les photographes de l’agence Magnum Photos ont en grande partie influencer ma perception et mon flux de travail. J’admire l’ensemble des photographes de cette agence, et plus particulièrement Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka, Larry Towell, Abbas, Micha Bar-am et la liste continue encore et encore. Ils sont aujourd’hui ma source quotidienne d’inspiration, et j’espère un jour faire partie de leur grande agence. Garry Winogrand que j’ai mentionné plus tôt est aussi pour moi sur un piédestal. Mais, si je dois choisir une personne qui a influencé le projet de ce livre « Mea Shearim – the streets », ce serait Robert Frank et « The Americans« . Quand j’ai commencé ce projet, j’ai lu beaucoup. Et je suis tombé sur un article sur lui qui encensait son travail pour « The Americans ». J’ai donc décidé d’y jeter un coup d’œil, et comme un cliché, plus rien a été pareil depuis. J’ai commencé à consulter tout ce que je pouvais à ce sujet – vidéos, articles, livres. Soudainement, ses mots au sujet du projet étaient aussi importants que ses photographies. D’une certaine façon, je suis devenu obsédé. Quand j’en ai eu fini avec tout ce que j’avais pu trouver, j’ai commencé à consulter toutes les pages à ce sujet sur le site de la National Gallery Art. J’ai passé des jours à les regarder. Mais ce n’était pas suffisant, il me fallait une copie papier. J’ai eu la chance d’acheter une édition limitée de Yugensha qui en comptait 88. Je les ai regardés à maintes reprises, chaque jour avant de débuter ce projet. En apprendre plus sur Frank et « The Americans » a été très éducatif, pas seulement d’un point de vue technique, mais aussi dans la façon de former les idées, de former un projet photo et une édition forte.

read more at - http://blog.grainedephotographe.com/interview-rues-mea-shearim-photographe-ofir-barak/

INTERVIEW FOR "THE FORWARD" by ofir barak

By Jake Romm.

Perhaps it’s counterintuitive, but there is something about the Haredi community of Mea Shearim — an ultra orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem known for its insularity and religious zeal — that makes it an absolutely fascinating artistic subject. Of course, one might think, quite rightly, that an insular community that enforces (sometimes violently) norms of modesty, patriarchy, and privacy would resist being the subject of an artistic venture. But part of the artistic allure lies in this seclusion. In a world in which we mediate life through images, in which events and places sometimes seem to exist solely for the camera (if an event has not been photographed, is it really, meaningfully, an event at all?), in which the power and ubiquity of the camera has made the world smaller, so to speak, it is the photographs of the heretofore unknown places (or, that is, unknown to us), the off-limits places, that engender the most excitement. Mea Shearim, as it is lived, is one of those unknown and off-limits places (like the to reach Europe, or any photographs from Kim Jong Un’s North Korea [though there the excitement is obviously tempered with fear, disgust, and uneasy concern]) for many of us.

But it is not just the attitude and isolation of Mea Shearim that makes it ripe for artistic exploration but also the aesthetic of it. The black silhouettes, the uniformity of dress, the density of the population, the contrast between the darkness of the figures and the brightness of the architecture and the sun. It offers opportunities both for extreme anonymity (group images in which the black hats almost form a hive of sorts) and extreme individuality (any deviation becomes immediately apparent). It also offers, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to wrest the individual from the mass – which is also to say, to force yourself to recognize the individuality and subjectivity of each silhouetted hat, regardless of how anonymous it appears (for a more abstract visual analogue, see Gerhard Richter’s wonderful and under-appreciated cartoons).

The artistic presentation of this community is also rife with political problems. All art is political – either by its remove from society or its direct engagement – but here, in a country known primarily to the world for its political situation, in a specific community that is often at odds with its own government, the Palestinian population, and the world at large, the political aspect of photography comes almost unavoidably to the forefront.

It is these problems and opportunities that I was able to discuss with Israeli photographer Ofir Barak, who has just completed “Mea Shearim: The Streets,” a photo-book composed of pictures he took of Mea Shearim between 2014 and 2016. Barak’s photographs, which first caught my eye on his fantastic instagram feed (@ofirbarak), follow in the Magnum, black and white, photo-documentary tradition of such artistic giants as Josef Koudelka and Sergio Lerrain (it is no coincidence that Barak won a 2016 Magnum Photo Award for a single image). The photographs play upon the aforementioned tension between anonymity and individuality at play in Mea Shearim – both through a keen sense of composition and an obvious sense of commitment and rigor –  and fully utilize the black and white medium (if ever there were a situation which called for black and white, surely this is it).

While making the final preparations for the first run of his book (which can be purchased on his website here), Barak discussed how he was able to gain access to Mea Shearim, the challenges of shooting, the genesis of the idea, his influences, and more.

Forward: How did you come up with the idea for this project in the first place?

Barak: A personal decision often comes from a collection of experiences. The idea for this project was the result of a long period of soul searching and the loss of a loved one.

You see, at my core, I’m a painter. This is what I was passionate about; this is what I loved to do. But for a few months I was lacking the motivation to create and it frustrated me. I decided to put painting aside and look for a new path for self expression.

I thought that traveling somewhere might help me clear my head and find some answers. It was clear to me that in order to move beyond my struggle, I needed to surround myself with every form of art I could find - literature, poetry, paintings, architecture - anything goes. I remembered that the museums in D.C have free admission, so I decided to go there. Each day I wandered into a different museum and enjoyed the art galleries. One day, accidentally, I entered an exhibition of Garry Winogrand’s photographs from the wrong side – where people exit. Consequently, I didn’t know who the photographer was, but I was struck by his images.

In that moment, I had an epiphany – this is what I want to do. This is what I can do. I spent two hours at the gallery, but realized that I just couldn’t consume it all in once. I went back there three more times to learn about Winogrand, each time focusing on different photographs. In the exhibition there was also a small screening room showing his famous talk at Rice University. I took a notebook with me each visit and sat at the corner of the room – writing down what I want to achieve and how.

The second event that influenced me was the loss of my grandmother. We had a special bond and we had a weekly routine to discuss the photographs I took. Starting in early 2014, we began to have fewer opportunities to do that due to her deteriorating health, until eventually she required full time medical supervision and was hospitalized. On one of my visits, I wanted to distract her from the treatments and ease her mind so I asked if she would like to see a photograph I took the day before. She immediately said yes and was very enthused when I showed the photograph to her. We ended up talking and analyzing the photo as we used to, freeing our minds from the hospital room while enjoying the moment and each other’s company. Neither of us knew that it would be our last time together. After her death, I decided to do a project based on the last photograph she saw.

Forward: The community in Mea Shearim is extremely insular – how were you able to gain access and take these pictures? I imagine that your outsider status must have been compounded and exacerbated by the presence of a camera.

Barak: Our time is very complex. On one hand, the internet, though private in a physical sense, is in some way very open. People are sharing their most intimate pictures with strangers. But on the other hand, everywhere you go with a camera people will look at you differently – as if you are trying to breach their privacy. The community of Mea Shearim is obviously more closed than many other societies. They are also constantly battling the digital revolution as they believe it will distance the residents from religion.

When I started the project in 2014, I would walk around the area with my camera and the looks I would get from the residents whenever I lifted my camera to my eyes was very unpleasant – they would basically kill my enthusiasm. Most of the time, I would go home after taking only 2-3 photos. I realized that I would have to appear less as an outsider in order to properly capture the lives of this dynamic community – I needed to blend in. I began altering my appearance and dress accordingly. While visiting Mea Shearim, day or night, I wore only black and also grew a long beard. I even began to eat in the settlement on a regular basis. I slowly adapted to the place and freed myself from my shyness and fear. In some ways, the place also adapted to me - people would start approaching me and asking about my presence. I had all kinds of encounters - some threatened me, wanted to break my camera or worse. But most were curious about the book and just let me go about my business. There were some that even wanted to help explain Mea Shearim to me – they showed me unique things or even introduced me to other people that wanted to help.

Forward: On the one hand, this seems like a perfect subject for street photography. On the other hand, the landscape and political and ideological tension in the area makes it fraught with problems of representation. Did you have any specific agenda going into this project beyond documentation? If not, were there any unique challenges in trying to keep an impartial eye or to create an apolitical (to the extent possible) body of work?

Barak: My initial goal is to always take neutral photos that can represent the situation as it is lived. At its core, it is a difficult task since the picture you take is always your point of view. You have to separate what you know from what you see. Because I’ve lived in Jerusalem for most of my life, my perception of the Hasidic population started to be shaped a long time ago. For this project, I wanted to transcend my perception and try to just see the place and its people. The biggest challenge I had was with the editing of the book. Editing is always the hardest part as you must be very precise and harsh on yourself. On top of that, I had created 10k-13k pictures, making it even more difficult. When I began editing, I saw that the final product was very political - it contained protests against the government, the oppression of women, and male chauvinism. I was disappointed and didn’t want to accept that this was all I saw in Mea Shearim. I didn’t want to accept that I was influenced by the common narrative that you stated earlier – I needed to forget myself. I decided to scrap this draft and go back to look for new images. From that period forward, I created 2000 more images depicting the more positive aspects of society – positive feelings, expressions of joy; basically the humane things that I never tried to find the first time. The book in its present form represents a balance between this duality of daily life in Mea Shearim – a duality common to all people.

Forward: Just looking at your images, you seem to be really influenced by the Magnum photographers –Koudelka, Cartier-Bresson, Sergio Lerrain, Are there any photographers or photographic projects in particular that you count as influences?

Barak: My list of influences is very wide, but obviously Magnum has had a great role in shaping my perception and workflow. I look up to every photographer there – especially to Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka, Larry Towell, Abbas, Micha Bar-am, and the list goes on and on. They serve today as my daily source of inspiration and I wish one day to become a part of their honorable establishment. Garry Winogrand, as I mentioned earlier, is also on a pedestal. But, if I have to choose one person that influenced this book project, it would be Robert Frank, particularly his book “.” When I started to photograph this project, I had been doing a lot of reading. I saw an article about Frank that glorified “The Americans” so I decided to look at it and, as the cliché goes, nothing’s been the same since. I started consuming everything “The Americans” – videos, articles, books. Suddenly, his words regarding the project became just as important as his photographs. In some ways I became obsessed. When I finished everything I could find I went to the contact sheets –  scans of which are available at the National Gallery of Art. I spent days looking at them. But that wasn’t enough for me – I wanted to have a hard copy. I was fortunate enough to buy a limited edition by Yugensha that contained 88 of them. I looked at them again and again every day before I went to shoot this project. Learning about Frank and “The Americans” has been very educational – not only in a technical aspect but also in terms of forming ideas, forming a photo essay, and executing a harsh edit.

Forward:On the Magnum photography award – It’s an incredibly strong image. Was there anything in particular about that picture, other than its obvious visual merit, that spoke to you? Anything essential that it seemed to capture about the community?

Barak: Behind some images, you can sometimes see a whole world. There are those photographs – you don’t just flip through them, you stay on them and observe. You can look at them over and over again and still be amazed. The difference between a good picture and a bad picture is often measured in millimeters and small fractions of a second. Henri Cartier-Bresson often talked about the decisive moments in pictures; he said that “there is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera and this moment, once you miss it, it is gone forever.” This image of the Passover preparation (2015) in Mea Shearim, is to me a decisive moment. It is a visual pleasure as all the elements are in order and lay in front of the viewer - the people are in line in every direction, they fill the edges of the frames and you can view all the small details until you realize that there is a strong dissonance between the top and the bottom of the frame - the peaceful skies as opposed to the chaotic ground. It is that visual merit that made me capture it.

Forward: Aside from the Magnum award photograph, do you have any favorites from the series?

Barak: The best pictures are the ones that elicit an emotional response. They let you see things that others can’t and allow you to relive individual experiences that you’ve had. I have a lot of favorites in terms of composition or subject, but the one picture that is closest to my heart is the one and only picture from the project that my late grandmother saw before she passed away. This was the first ever picture I took in the area of Mea Shearim; in it is a street bum reaching his hand for charity. This picture holds my last memories of my late grandmother and symbolizes the new beginning I chose to take. For me it is a picture that holds both an ending and a beginning.

Read more: http://forward.com/culture/382211/israeli-photographer-ofir-barak-discusses-his-work-on-mea-shearim/

interview FOR "LEICA CAMERA BLOG" by ofir barak

Q: What is Mea Shearim? What enticed you to shoot and document the streets and its people?

A: Mea Shearim was established in 1874 as the fifth settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Its name is derived from a verse in the weekly Torah portion that was read the week the settlement was founded: “Isaac sowed in that land, and in that year he reaped a hundredfold Mea Shearim); God had blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). Mea Shearim remains today an insular neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem. Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts. For men, traditions in dress code include black frock coats and black hats. Long, black beards cover their faces, and many grow side curls, called payots. Women and girls are urged to wear what is considered modest dress – knee-length or longer skirts, no plunging necklines or midriff tops, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders. Some women wear thick black stockings all year long, even in summer, and married women wear a variety of hair coverings, from wigs to head scarves. The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, as opposed to the Hebrew language spoken by the majority of Israel’s population. The only use of Hebrew for residents is in prayer and religious study, as they believe that Hebrew is a sacred language to be used only for religious purposes.

A decision is often consists on a collection of experiences that made you arrived to the conclusion you need to do something. If i have to pinpoint an exact moment in time i would say my decision to document the streets and it people would have to do with the death of my grandmother. We had a special bond and we would usually had a weekly routine to discuss the photographs I took. In early 2014 we had fewer opportunities since her health had begun to deteriorate while receiving treatments on a weekly basis, until eventually she had to be under medical supervision and was hospitalized. On one of my visits as we were by her bed, I wanted to ease her mind from the treatments and asked if she would like to see a photograph I took the day before. She immediately said yes and was very enthused when I showed the photograph to her. We ended up taking and analyzing the photo as we used to, freeing our mind from the hospital room we were in, while enjoying the moment and each other company. But neither of us knew that it would be our last time together. After her death, I decided to do a project based on the last photograph she saw. This one photo has led me on a three-year journey photographing the streets of Mea Shearim.

Q: Do the images and their subjects reflect today’s Jerusalem, or just a small portion of it?

A: The images do reflect today’s Jerusalem as they were taken in the last 3 years. But Jerusalem is a large city and you can be divided to many groups or subjects. One may say that Mea shearim is a small section on the map but i think it has a very big strength to it regardless of the square feet it occupies. I once heard a conversation between a resident of the area to his friend on his phone – one person asked where he is and the other replied he was “at the state of mea shearim” – from that sentence we can see the importance of the place.

Q: Hassidic Jews have maintained their religious and cultural traditions for many years now, was this something you wanted to share through the photographs as well?

A: I think that a photographer need to be an absorber, and in order to present a full view of the community you must include their costumes. It was important for me to present this aspect as well as others. Holidays are usually the best times to shoot since people are more welcoming and they let their guards down and it is easier to come close to them. But as said, you must include ordinary days as well and that was the hard part. For example it was extremely hard for me at first to shoot at protests that held in the area since I don’t appear as one of the residents and was suspected as a police informant. Only after I explained again and again my pure motives most of them felt at ease and I was welcomed to walk besides them.

Q: There’s a clear definition in your work, with high contrasts, use of light and shadows – can you describe the moment when you choose what to shoot or take a picture?

A: I learned about myself that I have to limit my time in order to get a good result. I usually shoot up to 200 frames in 2-3 hours and that’s it – I go home. What I choose to shoot is down to basic of what interest me – it is simple as that. Nevertheless, I learned that there is a few things that can assist you. Henri Cartier Bresson often talked about geometry and how it can present a visual and an intellectual pleasure. A photographer have to make sometimes small gestures to accomplish them – change his point of view, arrive in different hours and so but if you achieve them i think they contribute a lot to the composition and the overall look of the photograph.

Q: You mention you shoot in color and then convert to black and white – can you explain the creative process behind this?

A: As stated, I usually shoot color and really enjoy the color range the Leica M ( Typ 240) produces. The colors are very accurate and right. I later convert my files to black and white. I would advise anyone I know to shoot primarily color since color can give you more options later when you edit the photograph. You can use the yellow, red, blue and green to emphasis the subject or simply do the opposite and It’s a great option since you left with both options for future use if you choose so.

Q: Please describe the performance of your Leica M ( Typ 240).

A: The Leica M ( Typ 240) is very simple to use and i can always rely on it. Its startup in just less than 3 seconds and then it’s ready to shoot. It’s very important while working and you learn to appreciate it. The camera doesn’t jam and very durable – I had walked with it in the rain, sandy areas and nature and it was there for me every time. Even the battery that at first seemed very bulky, i later learned to appreciate you can easily use for multiple times before recharging.

Q: What’s the story behind these two images? 

A: This photograph was taken during the passover preparation (2015) – Passover is a Jewish holiday where the Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. Passover preparations are very chaotic and there are large centers in different locations where each group of the residents, burned their old bread to make a new place for a type of bread especially for Passover (named “Matza”). I can say that it was the last picture I took that day, i was exhausted from the heat and bonfires and never thought of it as much. Only later while editing the photo i saw the strength of it.

This photograph on the right was taken during the purim holiday (2015). In this jewish holiday, people get to dress up and wear costumes while performing other customs of the holiday. I was fortunate enough to be given entrance to a Hasidic purim festive party that held that year. Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman – the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who, according to the Hebrew Bible, was a vizier in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Xerxes I. Haman instigated a plot to kill all of the Jews of ancient Persia. While taking this picture, it stroked me with a resemblance to the famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci – “The last supper”.

Q: Lastly, do you want to add something else for readers to know about, maybe other projects in the pipeline?

A: I’m currently working on my second project regarding christianity in Jerusalem. My ambition is to make a multi layered project regarding all three major religions in Jerusalem – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Mea shearim project was very dear to my heart. I have recently launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to compile it into a book – if you enjoyed the story and pictures please take a time to visit it and support it.

 

You can view the full interview here - http://blog.leica-camera.com/2017/05/27/mea-shearim-streets/

interview for "LENSCULTURE"- december 2015 by ofir barak

LC: Contemporary street photography is often defined by dramatic colors, rich shapes and evocative settings. You chose to photograph a community known for its conservative and inward nature. How did you face/overcome this aesthetic challenge?

OB: I would have to disagree and approach a definition of street photography from a more personal aspect. I'm a self-taught photographer and I never went to photography school. My entire learning experience is based on books and the legendary street photographers, like Henri Cartier-Bresson and the members of Magnum. Since black-and-white came before color, it was a much cheaper way to work for a long time, and thus a large body of classic works were done this way.

This is what shaped me and my way of seeing. Now, in our times, the definition of photography for the masses has changed and color has become the "default." Thanks to smartphones and widely available digital cameras, we see so much color imagery every day. But for my photographic references, this is not the case at all.

As for the project, I think that my monochromatic approach combined well with the area and its residents. Mea Sharim, as a place and a community of people, continues to try hard not to change. For example, one can hardly feel the influence of the digital revolution when you are there. The series' black-and-white tones help us keep this in mind as we look through the photographs.

LC: You've written that you decided to shoot this project after coming back from a long stay in the US. Do you feel like your time away from Israel was essential to giving you the distance to make this work?

OB: I think my inspiration grew out of a place in life—a state of mind—not a geographical location. While I was staying in the US, I tried to look for something unique to do and meanwhile did lots of research. By research, I mean I used to go and sit at libraries for long stretches of time and look at the work of major photographers.

When I got back from the States, I had an idea that I wanted to do a street project with a twist. So I started my "Blurred" project, which also took place in Mea Sharim. To make those photographs, I shot exclusively in the dark, during the winter, using only a low shutter speed. This had a dramatic effect.

When summer came, the photographs didn't look similar to the ones I had taken in the winter. They were lacking the same effect. So I started walking to the neighborhood by day, while altering my approach and taking different pictures with a high shutter speed. Summer was long and these pictures began to take over and swallow up the blurred ones. But winter is coming again, so we'll see what happens...

LC: You describe your efforts to not appear as an outsider. Do you think these really worked? Was it advantageous at times to be an outsider? Was it a barrier at other moments?

OB: I would have to say that it helped a bit, but not entirely. I could tell that I was successful at fooling the adults, but when I encountered children, they could always spot me as an outsider. After all, children are more aware of their surrounding.

As all things, my situation of being an "outsider" had its up-sides and down-sides. For example, a positive aspect was that it was easier for a person in the community to come and talk to me freely. When people take extreme routes in life—especially with aspects of religion—they might have some seconds thoughts about all the things they been missing. With an outsider, that person might find it easier to speak his/her mind, since the outsider (me, in this case) won't judge in the same way that someone from within the community would.

On the other hand, the downside is that I missed frames sometimes because I was holding a camera. You might think that's absurd—the camera is supposed to help me make photographs—but in Mea Sharim, the camera is viewed with particular suspicion. These people do not feel like the camera is a way to make art but it is largely an intrusion that threatens to corrupt their daily routine. It was during those moments when I acutely felt my outsider status.

LC: Much of street photography’s history is defined by iconic single images. How did you confront the idea of a street photographic series? What did you look towards for inspiration? Did you have any models?

OB: A single picture is much more easier to take, since it only requires being in the right place, at the right time at just one single moment. But when you have to produce a series of photos on a single subject, that becomes a much more challenging endeavor.

If you compare this idea to a book, a single picture is like the first chapter (or even the first sentence!). You need to get people's interest so that they will keep on reading—but it takes much more than one picture to tell a complete story.

For inspiration, I would advise going to the world's largest library: the internet. Search for any and all things that interest you and you'll come across inspiration. Once you've found some photographers that you like, you should immediately search for more of his/her work. Gather your sources and then you can start thinking through series and how they might inform the work you want to undertake.

LC: Street photography is filled with giants—any particular heroes that inspire you?

OB: Two of the biggest influences on my approach are the Magnum Foundation and the late Garry Winogrand. In particular, Winogrand's photos helped me very much in shaping my perspective on the world.

I hadn't actually heard of Winogrand until 2014, when I visited Washington D.C. and went to one of the museums there. As I strolled through the galleries, I made a mistake and entered an exhibition from the wrong end, where the people were exiting. I was confused and didn't know who this photographer was but I could see he took many, many great pictures. It was there that I had an epiphany about what I wanted to do.

I spent two hours at the gallery that day, but by the end, I realized I just couldn't consume it all at once. Eventually, I went back there three more times. There was a small screening room with his famous talk at Rice University. I took a notebook with me and sat in the corner of the room. While he talked, I wrote to myself small anecdotes of what I wanted to achieve and how.

George Bernard Shaw purportedly said, "Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." I think I found and created myself in that small corner of the gallery screening room...with Garry Winogrand by my side.

—Ofir Barak, interviewed by Alexander Strecker

INTERVIEW for "f-stop magazine" - october 2015 by ofir barak

F-Stop: How do you prepare for a project, can you elaborate on your creative process ?

OB: I think the most important thing I have learned is to think in a series of frames and not in a single frame when doing a project. It is very easy to take one picture of a theme but when you have to take a few pictures of the same theme its quite different and challenging.

I advise also to set a time frame for a project. A time frame helps you put a starting point and a finishing point for the theme. A finishing point is very important because sometimes you can just get caught up and don’t want to let go.After that you have set those, you have to keep in mind your commitment to the project and push yourself  to go out there and shoot, no matter the weather – summer or winter.  It would be important to show different situations of the same subject / idea. After that, I assume the rest will present itself as the photographer will move forward.

F-Stop: How do you choose what to photograph and when, what are you looking to capture?

OB: I usually try to capture what interests me and to capture the everyday goings on of their life without disturbing them. We are living in a digital age when every camera is intrusive and people are fearing for their privacy. I found that in the holidays people are more relaxed and less care about the camera so a large part of my work there is being made around those days.

F-Stop: What do you hope people see or perhaps learn when they look at your photographs?

OB: I hope people can see, feel and even smell the area I’m shooting. I hope it triggers in them something and makes them think. There are times when I show my friends or family a photo and they immediately start sharing a story with me, they may have seen or recognized something familiar there and it triggers them. That is what I love about photography that in each person it may result in a different emotional response.

F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?

OB: A lot of the times, a photographer connects the images he took to the experiences he had during the shoot – how was he feeling that day, how was the weather and so on. I have a lot of pictures that I consider favorites but only one that I hold dearest – It was the first picture I took of this series. The picture is of a jewish beggar asking for charity at night – He had a white beard that indicated his age and his had was reached for the people walking by. I hold this one so strongly because this is the last picture I showed to my late grandmother. I was by her bed in the ER of “hadassa” hospital, and I told her I went to Mea Sharim to start a project. After she saw it she told me she really liked it and said it was very different from everything I have done at that time. Sadly, she was ill and passed away the next day.
I can honestly say its not a great picture – I didn’t focus well on him when I was passing him by and the picture came a bit blurred, but every time I look at it, I can remember that moment I shared with her and it brings me joy.

F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?

OB: I still have a year or so for “Mea Shearim” and while I’m working on a project I try to concentrate only on it. Even though, sometimes halfway through I start to wonder what can I do next or how else can I reinvent myself. I have a few ideas about that and one of them is to follow the Christen religion and document it, I have a few monasteries and churches around my area and I think that could be a different angle on religion. Maybe I would turn it into a multiple project that includes all major three religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?

OB: I would have to say that the late Garry Winogrand was the most influential photographer in shaping my perspective. I hadn’t heard of him until 2014, when I visited Washington D.C. and went to one of the museums there. I just strolled through the galleries and by mistake I entered the exhibition from the wrong side – from where the people exit. I didn’t know who the photographer was that took all these great pictures. I had an epiphany there that this is what I want to do. I spent two hours at the gallery but realized after a while I just couldn’t consume it all at once and eventually I went back there three more times. There was a small screening room with his famous talk at the Rice University, I took a notebook with me and sat at the corner of the room and write myself small anecdotes of what I want to achieve and how to while he talked. George Bernard Shaw once said that Life isn’t about finding yourself its about creating yourself, and I think I found and created myself in that small corner of the gallery room… with Garry Winorgrand by my side.

The full interview can be found here