Rob Streit JN Intern
Photographer Joshua Haruni documents everyday life in a Chasidic community in Israel.
The cloistered world of Chasidic Judaism is one that seems inaccessible to the uninitiated. The sect is steeped in tradition and maintains strict adherence to its tenets. Outsiders are rarely — if ever — afforded a glimpse into its lives and religious practices.
Photographer Joshua Haruni pulls back the curtain of Chasidic and Kabbalistic communities in his book Do Not Photograph. The London-born Haruni captured the images over the course of eight years after receiving permission from the leader of the Pinsk-Karlin Chasidic sect in Jerusalem. “Do not photograph” was a common refrain heard from the Chasidim.
“Imagine then my presence at Chasidic functions,” Haruni writes in the book’s introduction. “Arriving unannounced with two camera bodies swinging wildly from my neck and a camera bag, with which I must have toppled over numerous articles of incalculable religious value.”
The 90-plus photographs put readers squarely in the intimate spaces of the community. They are vibrant and lively, but most of the images had languished in Haruni’s personal archive since 2003. The photographer ran into his former printer, Danny Chau, and the pair reviewed his past work. They digitally scanned the archive and noticed what Haruni calls an “ageless quality” to the work.
“In order to enhance this effect, I asked Danny to add color digitally to the images, which I originally shot in black and white, as a tribute to the hand painting of early 19th-century photographs,” Haruni writes.
The coloring treatment makes readers feel as if they are peering into the past. Shortly after, Haruni was approached by Jerusalem’s Israel Museum to participate in an exhibition. Do Not Photograph was published in response to the positive feedback Haruni received.
Haruni initially set out to capture images of the resurgent belief in “practical Kabbalah.”
“I wanted to explore the renewed faith in this esoteric belief system amongst mainstream Israeli-Jewish society,” Haruni writes. “Ultimately, the dynamic of that project generated numerous leads into photographing the Chasidic way of life, which in turn evolved into a separate project altogether.”
Haruni’s book shows a community that seems to hold on to the past, but he bucks against this notion.
“Rather than being confined to history, however, the past continues to serve as the benchmark against which Chasidim assess the modern world,” Haruni writes.
Israel National News’ Rochel Sylvetsky says Do Not Photograph succeeds in what the book sets out to do.
“There is no question that Mr. Haruni took on a daunting and unimaginable challenge in a community where anyone with a camera soon hears someone shouting the words ‘Do not photograph!’ When after two years of patient perseverance, he received permission to photograph … he made us all the richer for it,” Sylvetsky says.
Each image is a slice of Chasidic life. But Haruni says the book is not intended to be an all-encompassing report on the community.
“This book does not tell a story,” he writes. “But I like to think that the images contain their own narrative.”