federica valabrega – daughters of the king

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Federica Valabrega

Daughters of the King

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Since I was a little girl I have always been curious why Jewish women have to pray separately from men. Having to look down while the men read and carried the Torah around the temple often made me feel like an external presence in this spiritual experience.

Why are women not allowed among men and why they are not to touch the Torah with their bare hands? Why are they to braid the Challah and why are they the ones who have to light the candles on Shabbat, but they cannot be more involved in the tradition of Jewish learning?

For years I left those questions unanswered. I rebelled against my Jewish roots because I feared the answers I was going to get were never going to convince me that it was right for women to be considered different than men.

Having moved to Brooklyn, where every other person I meet is an Orthodox Jew, I felt compelled to explore the Jewish woman’s identity further. And what better way to do so than by getting to know orthodox Jewish women, share their stories of spiritual growth and photograph them?

From this came the idea of a long-time photography project on the Bat Melech, the women of God, the ones “who bare the children of the Torah,” the pillars of the Jewish traditions.

These three months of work, digging into the tradition of such Jewish women, spending time with them in their homes, praying with them, and getting closer to their spiritual beauty, has lead me to understand that there is nothing inferior about being a woman in the Jewish faith.

 

Bio

Federica was born in Rome, Italy in 1983, but spent most of her adult life between Boulder, Co. and Washington, D.C. where she pursued her education. Since 2009, Federica has been the foreign correspondent for Shalom, a Jewish Italian magazine based in Rome and an active, touring staff photographer for the Professional Beach Volleyball Tour (AVP.com).

Her breaking-news freelance work (photos and articles) has appeared in a number of Italian newspapers (La Repubblica, La Gazzetta dello Sport and La Stampa), magazines (Panorama and L’Espresso) and press photo agencies (Ansa, Iber Press and Cubo Images) abroad. When she is not on shooting assignment, or at her desk editing pictures, she can be found teaching Power Vinyasa Yoga classes in Brooklyn or training for the 2010 New York City marathon.

 

Related links

Federica Valabrega

Federica’s Blog

 

42 Responses to “federica valabrega – daughters of the king”


  • I love it..love it …love it…
    we were talking about shooting in our backyard…but this essay goes a step further..its beyond..
    its shooting..”inside”,,..the soul…challenging the inner beliefs and fears, trying to be honest and judgement free…
    This essay is way harder to be shot/explored…coz it turns the camera “inside”…
    very very brave/fearless photographer..
    thank you..u r such an inspiration, truth seeker and truth follower…
    again..i totally dig it, love it, get it :)

  • and I love it..enjoy it …love it…

  • Brava Fede, veramente un bel lavoro, da professionista, belle le foto e mi piace il modo in cui sei dentro alla storia, continua così che vai alla grandissima!

  • For me these photo’s stir up a whirlwind of curiosity, and at the same time they are an insight every woman’s life. I love your perspective on their identity. I especially like the frame with the candle’s and mother daughter welcoming the angels. Beautiful. What an inspiring series.

  • Intense and intimate. As a man, I found it fascinating.

    Whirlwind is a good word, Madelein.

  • Sorry, should have been Madeleine

  • Federica, a beautiful series of photographs, thank-you. The insight into the lives of these happy women is fascinating. I’m not quite sure you’ve answered, for me at least, the questions you raise in your introduction regarding the role of women. Unless shopping, cooking, hair-salons and marriage (and prayer) are enough to feel as equally valued as the men in the community. But perhaps they are.

  • Wonderful photos, Federica. I love the use of flash. You make the women seem like rock stars. I agree with Andrew that other than to see that these women seem to enjoy their lives, the essay only begins to answer some of the questions that originally inspired your investigation. Does this mean we can expect more work from you? I hope so!

  • Hey guys,
    thanks a lot for taking the time to post comments. They helped me reflect upon the why I was so compelled to start this project.

    I have always felt a little anxious about showing my work to a bunch of very talented photographers and receiving their critiques/comments. But, I guess after DAH’s NYC workshop, I have shed those fears away and I have understood that constructive criticism is the only way to growth and it does, indeed, make you a better photographer. So,really, thanks a lot!

    Andrew and CJ you raise a good point: I have, in some of my photos, tried to give you hints to what I am discovering as I unveil these women’s secrets entering their lives. If I have not given you enough yet it’s probably because I have not figure it out myself…but, if you keep following me in my “baby steps forward in this reality,” you may get a better glimpse of it soon :)

    So, yes, CJ, you can, for sure expect more photos very soon (check my blog: http://www.federicaville.com for that in few weeks) since the pictures gathered here are only from the women of the Chabad Lubavitch of the Crown Heights Community on Kingston Ave. I still have to explore the Jews of Borough Park, Flatbush, Queens and then, of course, the Satmar sect of Williamsburg, apparently the hardest women to photographer since they are not open to show their personal selves to goyim (or non-Jews). But, I have always liked big challenges… this is all I am going to say for now.

    Onto Andrew now…”the inferiority” to which I was referring in my intro paragraph to the essay was a “religious inferiority,” between men (bound to do more mitzvot and asked to pray three times a week and to officiate all the religious ceremonies) and the women (often more prone to raise the children to be the next generation of Torah students and less likely to be asked to write in the Talmud–the book of Torah opinions and interpretations).

    The whole point of my project is to show, using photographs of daily chores, prayers, touchy moments, or simply every-day things Jewish women do that their lives are indeed as religious and involved in Torah study as the men’s, just the way women’s do it is by taking care of ten different other things at once.

    These orthodox Jewish women are much more than just mothers doing the daily errands and then finding time to pray once in a while. They are “machines” oiled to perfection. They are the “pillars of a secular tradition” of incredibly rigorous laws and regulations (inside and outside the synagogue) that today stand by only thanks to them who teach them to their children and their children’s children…

    Do not get me wrong, I am not playing the femminista here, I am just trying to show what I am witnessing with the eye of a photojournalist who, as a non-orthodox Jew born from a non-Jewish mother and converted at birth, these women do actually sleep an average of five hours a night and their lives revolved around the ones of their children and husbands. But, in the end, they are still stunningly beautiful, alive and greatful for having breast fed eleven children in less than 11 years.

    They still find the time to have a part-time job and jog in the park before the put their children to bed. Some of them teach Torah to other, younger mothers who converted later in life. Others own their own business.

    Men are present in their children’s life too, obviously, but they are out of their homes from 7 am (morning prayer) until after midnight (night prayer). They come home for breaks from work and to eat dinner and, some of them, take the time to “learn” (study the Torah, the Talmud and the teachings of the Rebbe for the Lubavitch sect) with their children at 5am, but mostly, it’s the mothers who schedule their part-time jobs around their children’s school schedule and then raise them to be their best.

    There is nothing “inferior” though, just a different way of dividing roles. A very functional one. A very strict one. A very Orthodox one, some would say. But, yet again, a very interesting to explore for me.

  • “…We always felt safe here. We thought the summers would last forever. I remember looking up at the falls, and everything rushing and white and beautiful. You looked up there and you felt that you could do anything. That absolutely nothing could ever stop you.”–allegra goodman, ‘kaaterskill falls’

    I LOVE this essay as well…rich, complex, ambiguous and, most importantly, powerful in both its intimacy and it’s refusal to subjugate the women and the material to cliche or bind this story to a thin register….

    Visually, I loved your use of flash. It’s a beautiful and dazzling mix, visually, between Bruce Gilden’s wonderfully deranged and very-New York madness silhouettes of light and shadow and the power and proximity of Lauren Greenfield’s work with girls/women. I really loved the flash as you use it to carve up not only moments of unsettling visual power, a la Gilden, but without spilling into the overly nightmarish or cartoonish. It strikes the right balance to me of power and strength, why coloring the frame with the shadows of the orthodoxy which, in appearance to some, may be perceived as disempowering the women. I love that your story walks between gentle, nearly buccolic imagery (17, 15, 13, 7 etc) with much more complex and darker moments (the incredibly brilliant #4 for example, or 6, 7)…the story continually plays with our expectations of what this story will be….from picture to picture, the narrative changes, as do the emotions…the moments of prayer look both soothing and frightening, the children look both happy and melancholic, the brides look both like movie stars and children play-acting….that kind of duality, iconographically, works brilliantly….

    that’s the kind of duality and complexity that i love in stories…books, music, film, photographs….

    and of course, i can’t leave without saying that the men, here, are in the background as a presence, but not as dominance. The remarkable thing, to me, about that is how odd that feels…walking along Kingston Avenue or anywhere in Crown Heights, my sense has always been about the intense presence of the men, of the rabbe, rabbi, the boys, the shopkeepers and grocery store owners, the cantors and the clerks…in my mind’s eye, i see the women, in crown heights, as the background, and yet here, you have brought them to the fore, not only in the content of the story, but it the emotional power and complexity of the neighborhood itself…and i LOVE that…

    ironically, i’ve just finished reading Roth’s first 3 Zuckerman books and what i’ve always loved about Roth is what i love about your story and your style…

    you undermine the cliche, the perception of what Orthodox women should look like, especially to the world (let alone goyim) outside of Crown Heights or any other Orthodox community….instead you use your intimacy and strength as a photographer (and a jewish woman) to break through, to play with the conventional understanding or misunderstanding of these girls and women and brides to be…..

    while the frame is gorgeous filled, and your use of flash is just brilliant (all that shadow and isolation and exaggeration of face and expression) what sticks to me as a photographer and as a reader of photogrpahy is that at the center there is celebration….and that the dark clothes and misconceptions have been replaced by a life that is strong, a community that is bound to one another not only through tradition, workshop and god but through love and family and live…

    a fully matured story of living….

    from yiddish

    Az me muz, ken men.

    when one must, one can

    congratulations Federica, and welcome aboard! :))

    cheers
    bob

  • I have to disagree here. I see beautiful and intimate B&W pictures, but can’t relate the story they tell to the artist statement. If find it difficult to tell this story without actually showing the contrast of both genres. The role of women in Jewish faith is what it is, because the role of men is what it is, and I can’ see any of that…..Maybe it’s because, same as with most religions I know, I don’t agree with your final conclusion that “there is nothing inferior about being a woman in the Jewish faith”. But that’s another story and just my point of view.

  • Ramon , I agree with your point of you regarding religions.. There is not a single religion that actually respects a woman.. That’s almost a given…actually that’s where the photog here got the motivation from..from that “given” truth.. All religions made by men for men.. Part of any faith is to “control” and disable a woman…

    And as John Lennon sang:
    “women is the n**** of the world”

  • Sorry I spelled it wrong..
    It should be : “woman is the nigger of the world”
    The absolute slave…
    Adam first, woman second… Bad bad woman .. Believed the snake and fooled Adam..
    With an apple iPad..
    Religion, faith … Control… Bunch of crap…

  • “…..The role of women in traditional Judaism has been grossly misrepresented and misunderstood. The position of women is not nearly as lowly as many modern people think; in fact, the position of women in halakhah (Jewish Law) that dates back to the biblical period is in many ways better than the position of women under American civil law as recently as a century ago. Many of the important feminist leaders of the 20th century (Gloria Steinem, for example, and Betty Friedan) are Jewish women, and some commentators have suggested that this is no coincidence: the respect accorded to women in Jewish tradition was a part of their ethnic culture….”

    Read more here:

    http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm

  • I like the essay for it is about women, I don’t care that much that it is about women doing something based on being jewish (same with muslim, christian, buddhist, hindu etc…). To me, that is just the crucible from which we make something that matters in our lives or not. I do think your pictures show that too.

    PS: Panos, religions are not about respecting men or women, but respecting God. You, and I, and anyone, are the ones to respect women, indifferently of what religion we may or may not practice. IMO.

  • Herve..
    If religions were all about respecting god then they wouldn’t tell us what to eat, what to wear when to fuck what to think what to say and what to fear..
    Religions are not about respect.. but about CONTROL…
    religions create the ultimate power.. The Pope was always stronger than any emperor..
    Why? Because Pope (and any pope) had the ultimate weapon..
    The ultimate Fear.. The Wrath of God..
    God told Muslims to not eat all day until sunset on Ramadan.. God created the orthodox Jews fashion designs (have u been in Brooklyn?).. God told Christians not to use condoms..
    God asked to eat Kosher instead of sushi.. God doesn’t like cats or witches..
    Ahhh God is on our side..
    The Americans had god on their side.. So did the Nazis.. So do the Muslims so do the Infidels…
    Religion is the ultimate INVENTION for total mass control..
    It’s stronger and smarter than any Marxist theory..
    Religion brings better results than communism..
    It’s been proven..
    God is everywhere, watches you all the time ..
    God is more “effective” than FBI and CIA together..
    Laughing… Nahhhh… Religion is a job, a government, an army, a business ..
    Very strong business.. Ask Hubbard and the Scientologists..
    Hubbard said.. You want to make money? Create a religion..
    Make rules.. Terrorize in the name of god..
    The individual is strong, but the herd the mass blind!
    Why you think Jesus died ? Probably nobody wanted his business..
    Nobody wants competition..
    Same reason drug dealers die on the block in the hood
    Because they stepped in the wring territory ..
    Laughing.. Religions are about respect????
    Man u got it a little mixed up…;)

  • How did the spaniards destroyed and enslaved the Indian spirit in south America?
    Christianity of course..
    How do you enslave Africa?
    Christianity of course .. Which is the ultimate religion of GUILT..
    You are a sinner by birth, therefore GUILTY from birth..
    Christianty, Jesus… Judaism ..
    Guilt, guilt, guilt..
    Have you ever watched any Woody Allen movies????
    Yep.. The Religion of guilt was born way before Jesus was born
    but it got way more sophisticated and way more developed by the Christians ..
    Whatever calls itself ORTHODOX creeps me out ..
    Scares the socks out of me..
    Orthodox = the Right way = the Only Way = Gods way..

  • And it’s freaky that although this conversations belong back to 1800′s ..but it’s 2010…
    and still talking about the same religious fascism.. Oppression and control..fear and guilt..
    It’s 2010 and still trying to define what is the position of a woman working different religious Soccer teams.. Orthodox Christians or orthodox Jews or Taliban or Muslims or Raiders or Bloods or Crips or Lakers.. We still try hard to prove that the woman is equal with the man-animal..
    I’m not laughing right now.. It’s not funny..
    And that’s why I like the essay above, trying desperately to prove that equality exists..
    Sorry but still the “woman is the nigger of the world”… And nothing seems to be changing any time soon..
    Neither in Israel nor Palestine or Brooklyn New York or Utah or Canada or Japan
    The essay is romantic..but nothing wrong with that..

  • Federica, thanks for your response — the most important aspect for me is that your subjects do feel their religious and social lives are full and fulfilled, and you show that beautifully. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of your work!

  • Federica, i love your pictures, they’re beautiful, strong, intimate images of these womens lives.
    However I don’t see them relating to your statement, the questions are unanswered.
    Is it acceptable that their roles are so clearly defined that either sex can’t cross over?
    I can’t judge if either role is inferior but as with all religions it’s probably very much about rules and obedience….I look forward to seeing how you develop this subject.
    Congrats on being published!

  • Hey folks please READ THE BOOK “Genealogy of Morals”…
    A lot to learn…(i know its not the easiest book, no pictures, no love stories,no happy ending, no white horse , no wedding ceremony…sorry)

    Genealogy of Morals
    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Summary
    Nietzsche opens by expressing dissatisfaction with the English psychologists who have tried to explain the origin of morality. They claim to be historians of morality, but they completely lack a historical spirit. Their theories suggest that, originally, people benefiting from the unegoistic actions of others would applaud those actions and call them “good.” That is, initially, what was good and what was useful were considered one and the same. Over time, these genealogists suggest, we forgot this original association, and the habit of calling unegoistic actions “good” led us to conclude that they were somehow good in and of themselves.

    Nietzsche disagrees with this account, suggesting that those to whom “goodness” was shown did not define “good.” Rather, it was the “good” themselves–the noble and the powerful–who defined the term. They came to see themselves as good when they came to see the contrast between themselves and those who were below them: the common people, the poor and the weak. Their position of power included the power over words, the power to decide what would be called “good” and what “bad.”

    In support of his argument, Nietzsche remarks on the similarity between the German word for “bad” and the words for “plain” and “simple.” By contrast, he notes, in most languages, the word for “good” derives from the same root as the words for “powerful” or “masters” or “rich.” In the Greek, Nietzsche notes that “good” is associated also with “truth.” The low, poor, commoners, are then associated with lying and cowardice.

    Nietzsche also remarks on how “dark” and “black” are used as negative terms, presumably because of the dark-haired peoples of Europe who were overrun by blonde, Aryan conquerors. He notes the association of “good” with “war” and “warlike.”

    Nietzsche then considers the change in language that takes place when the priestly caste gains power. Here, “pure” and “impure” become opposites associated with “good” and “bad.” This “pureness” consists in an abstinence from sex, from fighting, and from certain foods, a renouncement of many of the noble warrior’s habits. With these priests, everything becomes more dangerous: they alternate between brooding and emotional outbursts, and their wills are much stronger and sharper. But Nietzsche also remarks that only with the priests do human beings become interesting. With the priests, the human soul first gains those attributes that set it apart from animals: it acquires depth and becomes evil.

    Though the priestly mode of evaluation springs from the knightly-aristocratic mode, it becomes its opposite, and its most hated enemy. Because the priests are impotent, they learn to hate, and their hate becomes more powerful than any of the warlike virtues lauded by the nobles. Nietzsche identifies the Jews as the finest example of the priestly caste, the most refined haters in human history. The Jews(PRIESTS-status quo) managed to effect a complete reversal in moral valuations, associating themselves, the poor, the wretched, the meek, with “good,” and the lustful, powerful, and noble as “evil,” damned for all eternity.
    This revaluation of values effected by the Jews has happened so slowly that it has not been noticed.
    Its crowning achievement was the development of Christianity:

    Christian love, created by this burning hatred.

    Nietzsche sees Jesus as the ultimate embodiment of these Jewish ideals, and his crucifixion as the ultimate bait. All the opponents of the Jews might side with Jesus against them, thereby adopting his and their Judeo-Christian moral code. With the advent and success of Christianity, Nietzsche suggests, the reversal of the moral code became complete: what was once “good” became “evil” and what was once “bad” became “good.”

    http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/genealogyofmorals/section2.rhtml

    (click link above for more info)

  • If you read carefully you will understand why Hitler was burning Nietzsche’s books …also more than obvious why the Jews (priests) hated him…

    try to “Tell it like it is” and see what happens…
    The herd does not need philosophy or the “truth”..no no no no…the herd needs a leader, a god, fear , punishment and some FOOD on the table…
    here i broke it down for you…now go ahead , be the next leader, the next pope, the next savior…the next Hubbard, the next Bush, the next osama , the next politician, the next Lawrence of Arabia…trust me ..YOU WILL SUCCEED ..the herd needs you..just like it needs a protector, a guard, a dog to keep you “safe” from the wolves…safe from the “enemy”…
    That “fake enemy” that never existed , but u need that enemy so bad..so u stay faithful , loyal and keep u going to your minimum wage , 9 to 5 job..
    good luck and wish for retirement…

    oh here , there is a song for “you”…

  • read this poem from the greatest greek poet (K.Kavafis) of all times and you will totally get the point….

    Waiting for the barbarians… K.Kavafis

    Waiting for the Barbarians

    What are we waiting for,
    assembled in the forum?

    The barbarians are to arrive today.

    Why such inaction in the Senate?
    Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?

    Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
    What laws can the Senators pass any more?
    When the barbarians come they will make the laws.

    Why did our emperor wake up so early,
    and sits at the greatest gate of the city,
    on the throne, solemn, wearing the crown?

    Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
    And the emperor waits to receivetheir chief.
    Indeed he has preparedto give him a scroll.
    There in he inscribedmany titles and names of honor.

    Why have our two consuls and the praetors
    come outtoday in their red, embroidered togas;
    why do they wear amethyst-studded bracelets,
    and rings with brilliant, glittering emeralds;
    why are they carrying costly canes today,
    wonderfully carved with silver and gold?

    Because the barbarians are to arrive today,
    and such things dazzle the barbarians.

    Why don’t the worthy orators
    come as always to make their speeches,
    to have their say?

    Because the barbarians are to arrive today;
    and they get bored with eloquence and orations.

    Why all of a sudden this unrestand confusion.
    (How solemn the faces have become).
    Why are the streets and squares clearing quickly,
    and all return to their homes, so deep in thought?

    Because night is here but the barbarians have not come.
    And some people arrived from the borders,
    and said that there are no longer any barbarians.

    And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
    Those people were some kind of solution.

    Constantine P. Cavafy (1904)

  • Plato’s “The Republic” makes for an interesting read also..

  • To me the pictures tell a very different story from the statement. I think we are all smarter when we are little!

    Aldous Huxley in the introduction to Jiddu Krishamurti’s The First and Last Freedom (PDF):

    “Organized religions, with their mediators, their sacred books, their dogmas, their hierarchies and rituals, offer only a false solution to the basic problem. ‘When you quote the Bhagavad Gita, or the Bible, or some Chinese Sacred Book, surely you are merely repeating, are you not? And what you are repeating is not the truth. It is a lie, for truth cannot be repeated.’ A lie can be extended, propounded and repeated, but not truth; and when you repeat truth, it ceases to be truth, and therefore sacred books are unimportant. It is through self-knowledge, not through belief in somebody else’s symbols, that a man comes to the eternal reality, in which his being is grounded. Belief in the complete adequacy and superlative value of any given symbol system leads not to liberation, but to history, to more of the same old disasters. ‘Belief inevitably separates. If you have a belief, or when you seek security in your particular belief, you become separated from those who seek security in some other form of belief. All organized beliefs are based on separation, though they may preach brotherhood’ The man who has successfully solved the problem of his relations with the two worlds of data and symbols, is a man who has no beliefs. With regard to the problems of practical life he entertains a series of working hypotheses, which serve his purposes, but are taken no more seriously than any other kind of tool or instrument. With regard to his fellow beings and to the reality in which they are grounded, he has the direct experiences of love and insight.”

  • Bravo Fede! You keep getting better and better! I’m so impressed! Glorious light and compositions, you’re taking your flash work to a new level. These are some really superb photos. You’ve really gotten “inside” this community, which is a difficult thing to do, and I hope you keep working on this project! I think the issues others have brought up will be resolved the more you work on the project and ponder your own questions.

    Cheers,
    Boss

  • Wow, I love the heat my photo essay has generated.
    I guess that is the point of discussion like these. By signing-up to BURN “we agree to disagree, right?”

    General comment—
    My photos are showing you what I see to be true. What you make of them is your perception of my view of walking a foreign world of respect for laws and regulations you and I may not even know existed before.
    When I first walked on Kingston Ave, I felt as an outsider, a little ant walking in confusion and fear because I was more ignorant about what I was photographing than now.
    In these past months, I grew closer to most of these people and I got them to explain to me why they do what and when. I read about the Rebbe’s teachings and learned of the “miracles” the Chabad Jews think he performed and why then he was the Massiah on earth.
    From the knowledge came more confusion and even more fear of never being able to be accepted and/or to understand further why these people could live such “different” lives and I was not “buying it!”

    But, the months went by and with the dinners and the weddings and the time spent speaking to these people came the outmost respect for this unknown and extraneous “way of life.”

    Now, all I want to do is seek more, the rest of the answers will come!

    Ok, so here are my Personal comments back now:

    Bob has got my point when he says he noticed the men are in the background in my photos while the women are the center of the frames. Well, if you walk at the beginning of Kingston Ave. closer to 770 (the historical synagogue home of the Chabad Rebbe) you will notice many more black coats than shining female wigs with strollers. But, if you walk further into the core of Crown Height, toward Crown and President streets and then keep on walking in the alleys, you will see the women and their babies…many of them!

    Now, to Panos…with all do respect, I disagree with some of what you said “There is not a single religion that actually respects a woman…” and I was not motivated to pursue my essay for this reason or the one that “given truth,” but by curiosity on what makes outsiders (non-Jews or more-traditional Jews) think women are indeed inferior in the Orthodox Jewish faith because they are often home taking care of their children?
    I wanted to show the “real truth” the one only these people know for themselves and, unless you go and have dinner with them and stay over for a while, you may never know and that is the one that this religion is not at all based only on a male dominant persona over a subdued female’s fragile shadow. But a balance faith of both each with its own duties/responsibilities.

    Only by sitting at Shabbat dinner with these people did I learn that the first prayer the men recite before the Kiddush is said it’s a prayer to thank their wives for all they do for them. In what other religion do the husband sing along and dance to thank their wives before the Shabbat’s angels are welcomed into the house in the most sacred day in the Jewish faith? This is not to depreciate the Jewish women, but to elevates them to the men’s level, to G-d’s level.

    Panos, please do not get me wrong, I am just commenting on your comment, but I appreciate all your links and I love your reference to the halakhah (Jewish Law).

    If you keep reading the link you sent us you can find this:
    “ According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of “binah” (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men. The rabbis inferred this from the fact that woman was “built” (Gen. 2:22) rather than “formed” (Gen. 2:7), and the Hebrew root of “build” has the same consonants as the word “binah.” It has been said that the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) were superior to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in prophecy.”
    Then, why should this religion be a faith for men to men???

    Now, to reply to Herve, Ramon, Vicky and Simon: thanks for the comments. I am sorry that you cannot see what I see in my photos. But, hopefully the more I work at it, the better the intent will become clearer.
    In any case, the whole point of using a flesh and the black and white should help with underlining the strong presence of these Orthodox Jewish women everywhere one turns and the dropping shadows of the males in the background should signify indeed their secondary by-standard role in a female-oriented every-day life where the women are the ones to run the show!
    Now, if I were to go in the men’s partition of the synagogue, it will be different!!! But, I want to show the women because I am a Jewish woman and because nobody has ever cared to show they actually matter to the Jewish faith to continue. This is not only because they procreate but because when the husbands are out praying and working for cell phone companies and/or real-estate, they teach and raise the children, the ones who will carry on Jewish traditions to future generations.

    This essay is not a matter of what religion is more right or wrong. There is not judgment or whether to read other religion’s sacred scriptures means repeating and therefore lying. The essay is to answer questions such as:
    “Why are the men to do this and the women do that?” What’s behind it and how come it has worked so well for some many centuries for these religious people to live within such strict rules that we may see as weird, but for them are just another way to conform to G-d’s will?
    How can they be so righteous to respect them all and still have such strong faith in a G-d that is so imposing in their lives that they barely have time to sleep?
    (Now, if this will is right or wrong and if religion is a matter or conformism and control of fears, this is a whole other topic and I am not sure it could actually be a visual story at all, but rather the topic of many books already written!)

    Lastly I wanted to thank Chris Bickford (aka The Boss), my first teacher because all I know about lighting I learned from “assisting” him for three months on an adventurous trip in the “deep southern borrows” of New Orleans!

  • Federica.. Yep..
    Your essay= total success..
    Hey give me some credit too..will u;)
    Big hug..
    Please please disagree … Actually I will feel weird if someone agrees with me ever..
    And Chris Bickford (boss) did a good job..
    Thanks for the food fir thought mrs.Federica:)

  • Federica, congratulations on being published in Burn. Some good candid, intimate portraits here, though I don’t personally see any ‘spiritual growth’ (and I am not sure how one might depict such a thing anyway). Of course, I am coming at this from a secular outsider’s point of view. I have little interest in whether the Jewish religion honours (or values, etc.) it’s females as much as its males, though of course it would be nice to think that it does. Similarly, although I was brought up a Catholic, I have little interest in whether Catholic women feel honoured (they might feel more honoured if they were able to be ordained, but the Pope is an obvious absurdity, ‘faith’ checkmated by politics). Do Muslim or Hindu women feel anxious about their religious identities? I’m sure some of them do, but I usually find that the ones who have left the fold (forsaken the veil, etc.) make far more sense to me.

    To me, you come across a little like a Born Again Christian, especially in the comments stream; your writing (and some of the photography) has the uncritical enthusiasm of the (re)converted, so you can use a term like ‘spiritual beauty’ as if it should actually mean something to someone who has no inclination to join the club. You say:

    ‘These orthodox Jewish women are much more than just mothers doing the daily errands and then finding time to pray once in a while. They are “machines” oiled to perfection. They are the “pillars of a secular tradition” of incredibly rigorous laws and regulations (inside and outside the synagogue) that today stand by only thanks to them who teach them to their children and their children’s children…’

    ‘Much more than just mothers’? What on earth is wrong with being ‘just’ a mother (or father for that matter), a big enough task for anyone I should think. ‘Machines oiled to perfection’? Sorry, but this sounds pretty grim to me; Orthodox Stepford Wives come to mind. And aren’t some of those laws, such as the bathing rituals women have to undergo (connected with menstruation) rather demeaning, from a feminist, or just merely humanist point of view? As if a woman’s sexuality were somehow unclean. So Jacobson thought (in his Roots Schmoots) and I am inclined to agree with him. And how is that tradition of ‘incredibly rigorous laws and regulation’ in any way ‘secular’, since they are bound up so closely with the religion? Give me Howard Jacobson or Woody Allen any day, for the sake of my children and their children’s children.

  • I am sorry that you cannot see what I see in my photos.
    ——————————————–
    I thought I did, and said so, Federica. That specific denomination (jewish here) is just not what interest me the most.

  • If religions were all about respecting god then they wouldn’t tell us what to eat, what to wear when to fuck what to think what to say and what to fear..
    ————————–
    Do like me, don’t listen to them! :-)))

    Religions are not about respect.. but about CONTROL…
    ——————————–
    One doesn’t nullify the other, Panos. Though I always make a difference between religion as an institution and religion which is simply a means to commune with something that is bigger than your own little self and that cannot be defined by words ultimately, but experienced. There are plenty of guys who did that from every religion on earth.

  • women too (oops!)….

  • Federica – These pictures just look so so good! i can’t beleive you did this all in a week. i’ve come back to look at them a few times, and each time is a real pleasure! the first is still my favorite, but they are all so well composed, so full of content, and that flash…just perfect… Bob Black, as always, described your work so well, i need not (and cannot as well as he can!) say more! mazel tov!

    jordan

  • Federica

    I’ve been away, and busy lately, but must just take a moment to congratulate you on this series.

    Theme and treatment are fascinating, but that aside, I must commend you on your technique. Your use of off camera flash is amazing. This technique is not easy to master, especially how you have chosen to use it, with the angle of flash coverage less than the angle of view. Years ago, commercial shooter Hiro was a master of this.
    You have taken it even farther, #4 is simply brilliant. While it looks like a snatched paparazzi shot, the flash positioned inside the car shows that while it was carefully concieved, it appears so wonderfully spontaneous. Wow.

    This is by far the best work in your portfolio in my opinion.

    Nicely done.

  • FEDERICA…

    amazing work…and in just a few days….that lead picture looks like it should be a classic and i think it is…i will be very anxious to see what you do next…whether or not you continue with Orthodox women or move on to something else will be of great interest to me…….if i were you , i would stick with this awhile….see how it feels in a few weeks….in any case, you have done one of the best essays i have ever seen done in the workshop environment…

    cheers, david

  • Federica,

    Forgive my stupidity if you can. I spoke without proper consideration, very thoughtless (not to mention ungenerous). I went and looked at your work again and it’s indeed very skilled, some beautiful images, and full of surprises (the shadows of the candle-holders in number 6, the way the girl hidden behind her books in number 14 centres everything… lots of lively peripheral visions everywhere). I should have given you your dues, rather than my musty old scepticism and pedantry. And the fact that this was all done in a few days (as part of a workshop) is truly remarkable. Wonderful use of the flash too (as Gordon noted), warm and non-intrusive; art and skill, candlepower! Bravo.

  • This is just an excellent essay. Fine photography.

  • Federica, sorry I’m so late in publicly congratulating you on this excellent work. I think you’ve done a fantastic job of illuminating ways in which these women are so much more interesting and complex than the stereotypes with which all too many people saddle them.

    I do, however, share the concern or some other commenters that you weren’t entirely successful regarding the inferiority issue which you raise in your text. I don’t see anything in the photos that even addresses it. What I do see is a vibrant, very alive, community of women leading engaged and interesting lives. I don’t think that speaks to questions of inferiority, I think it speaks to questions of happiness and personal sovereignty. And I don’t see that you provide any answers to questions of inferiority, but I think you provide refreshingly insightful answers to questions of happiness and personal sovereignty. So perhaps you’re posing the wrong questions?

    Perhaps not, though. I’m certainly no knowledgeable expert about Orthodox Jewish customs and practices. I’m aware that there are different rules governing the roles of men and women but never really thought of it in terms of inferiority/superiority. Just different, though of course in a patriarchical kinda way. But thinking about it now (thanks to your essay), I guess that I did have an unconscious idea that these women somehow led gray lives of joyless, subservient toil. Is that true? Did I really believe that? No, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but truish nonetheless. I think the strength of your work is that it demolishes that particularly stereotype in a spectacular manner. And it does it visually with little or no need for textual explication. Textual explication would help to accomplish even more though, which I think is what you’re after.

    So that’s my advice, which is all about the accompanying text. Consider the discrepancy between what your brain is telling you you want to show and what your eye is actually seeing and bring the two together better in the text. I think it would help if there were an overview of just what the formal relationship is supposed to be between men and women. Address the stereotypes you think people harbor as well. Most of your viewers will only be dimly aware of those facts and understanding them more thoroughly is, I think, necessary for communicating your pov.

  • Hey guys,

    I just wanted to extend a BIG thanks to all of you for your last comments.
    You know who you are (Jordan, Gordon, Jim, Mark g, Herve and Mv.)!
    The BIGGEST of my GRAZIE goes to DAH, my mentor, friend and always inspiring teacher. Without your push in the workshop and your unconditional attention, I may not have done such work. I look forward to show you more soon!

    On a side note, I wanted to quickly say that, your comments/concerns/reflections you have allowed me to reflect on how to continue my project. Thanks to your piece of advice, I feel next time I will have to decide where to go and what to shoot, I will try to think twice about the questions I am apt to answer and whether or not what I have chosen to depict can be as clear to my viewers as it is to my eye.
    And, yes Mv, as a trained print journalist, text will definitely come along with the stills!!!

    Although, I have to say, mystique at times is what I strive for…I do not want to be too literal in what I show through my lens. I want to give you the weapons to, maybe, extrapolate your own feeling and emotion on your own.

    On this note, I will just say STAY TUNED for more on my Blog.
    Ciao and thanks again,
    Fede~

  • Hey guys,
    Tonight I felt a bit nostalgic and maybe in need of inspiration and I knew I was going to find some as usual among all of you at Burn.
    Yes, I know… it took me a year or so to actually STAY TUNED, but here I am now with some good news.

    “Daughters of the King” will become a book soon. Thanks to DHA who first lunched me here, this summer I published on of my new stills on the New York Times magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/11/magazine/WTWTmarital.html?ref=magazine) and I guess for me this was like touching the sky with a finger. So this gave me a kick in the butt to move forward even more…and that’s how the idea that my project would have been more complete with some frames of orthodox women from the little town near Minks in Russia where the Lubavitch first originated from and in Jerusalem, the Holy city for Jews all over the world, come about.

    So, a month ago I decided to crate a kickstarter project to be able to make “Daughers of the King” an international affair and fly to Israel and Russia to continue my project and later really make it into a book.

    Here is the link if you want to check it out and see some of my newest work: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1401126259/daughters-of-the-king

    I know it could have never happened without Burn and its fantastic community of photographers.
    So thank you!

    Hope to send you more news and photos from either Jerusalem or Minks soon
    Fede:)

  • Is that Minks, or Minsk?

    In any case, good luck.

  • Minsk, of course!
    Thanks, Gordon :)

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