Ultra-Orthodox women. 'They are still very feminine' (archives)
Photo: Yisrael Bardugo

Exhibition explores world of haredi women

NYC documentary photographer's interest in world of ultra-Orthodox women leads to project which ultimately challenges her own assumptions about these women

VIDEO – The world of ultra-Orthodox women can seem to be a mysterious one, when seen from the outside looking in.


For documentary photographer, Federica Valabrega, a secular Jew herself, her interest in this world led to a photo project which would ultimately challenge her own assumptions about these women.


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"There is a another side to what we see on the street when we look at religious women," she says.


Valabrega, who is originally from Rome, Italy, moved in 2009 to Brooklyn, New York, where she began photographing the multifaceted Orthodox communities who call the borough home.


"I decided it was time for me to analyze a little bit more the women's side of the religious world, especially because in the photography world you mostly see pictures of the men with the payots and the tzitzit and the hats, but you never really see all the head coverings of the women."


She called her project Bat Melech, or daughter of the king in Hebrew. She would often approach women on the street and over time develop relationships with them. As she began to understand their lives better, she gained a deeper understanding for what they were doing.


"These people do live in the Torah and their life may be in the past, but they're so spiritual about what they do and how they do it and what they believe in, that it is very humbling for us to see women or any person or human being living on such religious and spiritual highness."


'Their pride is within themselves'

She quickly learned that there was more than religion that defined the lives of her subjects.


"Jewish women are not just at home making soup and cooking matzah balls and changing diapers. I met women who work at Goldman Sachs. I met women who have their own business."


It also gave her the opportunity to consider her own Jewish identity and beliefs.


"The project became so much more a spiritual journey for me. Through my own Jewish 'neshama' (soul) that I pretty much kind of forgot along the way my whole life, into theirs."


She received funding support for the project that enabled her to travel to Israel and France to continue photographing religious communities in those countries. One theme she wanted to explore with the project was the unique femininity of ultra-Orthodox women.


"Their pride is within themselves. They only show it at home, like they uncover their head at home, they show their full beauty only in their home setting, to their husband, but you can still see that. You can glimpse parts of their beauty and parts of their femininity. They're still feminine. Very feminine.


"But when you see them on the street, it's like they're religious, they're ugly, they're so fully dressed, they don't show anything."


The last stage of her project will be to travel to Morocco and Tunisia later this summer. While the project has opened her eyes to a world far different from her own, it was not without its challenges.


"Every time I would go and photograph these women, I would wear religious clothing, I would fully transform myself and look very religious, even though I would explain to them I wasn't so religious. And sometimes covering myself was very difficult and it was very uncomfortable, because I had to fake something that I didn't quite feel within myself."


Valabrega's project will be on display in Italy and Israel later this year, and she is also working on a book to accompany the exhibit.



פרסום ראשון: 07.20.13, 08:21
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