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Chloe Dewe Mathews

Hasidic Holiday: The Annual trip to Aberystwyth

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For over 20 years, British orthodox Jews have been holidaying in the Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth, for two weeks every summer. Each family rents a small house in the empty student accommodation on the hill, and a large yellow and white striped tent is erected on the campus as a temporary synagogue.

They arrive in large groups, followed by huge removals lorries, bringing all their possessions from home, including children’s bikes, cookers and fridges full of food. Around a thousand people make the trip each year and although the majority of families come from North London, there are many others from further afield – from Manchester, continental Europe, Jerusalem and New York.

The Jewish community have been going to Aberystwyth instead of other traditional English seaside towns, like Blackpool or Brighton, as somewhere quieter, less populated and surrounded by rural beauty.  Over the years, the community have developed a real affection for the area, with accumulated associations of the annual family holiday.

After a morning of prayer, family groups rattle up the funicular “cliff railway”, push buggies along the pier and spend hours in the playground next to the ruined castle. The visual landscape of Aberystwyth is briefly transformed. Men in long dark coats and brimmed hats wander along the promenade as young families set up on the beach. Fully clothed even when swimming, the sight of these large family units together on the beach rekindles the Victorian notion of traditional British seaside holidays. This is in marked contrast to the rest of the beach goers – dog walkers, hobbling pensioners, single parent families and 20 something students still up from the night before.

Despite the long-standing relationship with the town, there is little contact or exchange between the Jewish community and the local people. On one occasion a visitor enquired at the tourist office, “Why are there were so many people in Welsh national dress on the beach?” on another it was asked, “When do the Arabs arrive?” Perhaps they get relatively less attention than they would elsewhere, as the town is so isolated, with a small tourist influx each year. However, multiculturalism has only come to rural Wales very recently, so although moments of confrontation are rare, they seem almost inevitable.

This year scraps of paper with swastikas on them were found littering the road near the student accommodation and a group of youths in the town centre chanted nazi slogans as a Jewish man walked by.



Chloe Dewe Mathews is a freelance photographer based in London.

After graduating in Fine Art at the Ruskin in Oxford, she worked in the commercial film industry for three years. Both inspired and frustrated she turned to photography, as a more immediate and intimate creative process. Working with different people in their natural environment, enabled her to engage with the world more directly.

She has been published in the Times, the Independent and Dazed and Confused magazine, and exhibited in London, Birmingham, Buenos Aires and Berlin.

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Chloe Dewe Mathews


Editor’s note:

Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

39 thoughts on “chloe dewe mathews – hasidic holiday”

  1. I am amazed that Chloe got permission from the community to take these photos. What a privileged look into a world that is rarely seen, except when visiting DAH in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. Chloe has done what I always value most and that is shown me a world I do not know and taught me new things about it. Both her images and captions are instructive. I wonder if this project was done on assignment or as a personal work. Whichever, I find it fascinating.


  2. Well Done Chloe!
    I couldn’t agree more with Patricia.
    Your pictures have a very ‘fresh’ look too. I really enjoyed looking at them over and over. There is something special in the edit, that enhances the potentials already present in your photographs. Graceful, delicate, but still very straight, your essay tells and tells…and I seem to desire more and more…, but maybe what you showed is just perfect.

  3. An interesting look at a group of people we rarely see in this environment. I, too, am impressed with the access you were given. Finally! Sharp, clear, color photos. Watched the whole slide show, was left wanting to see more.

  4. Like this Chloe.

    An interesting insight, of an appropriate length to leave your mind wanting to know more but not too long either (this can be a feat in itself to get right). I know access appears to be the curious point for people thus far – while one shouldn’t assume – ass u me reasons :) – I’m assuming like much of the better in depth photo essays, there has to be some form of relationship, at least at some level which enables such access.

    On first viewing I thought a little Parr-esque perhaps, but in fairness to you there is uniqueness and individuality there, I feel, to your style – this re-enforced by further checking of your gallery work on your site. Some great imagery published there. Again Parr does spring to mind in places (not everywhere) – I wonder is there an influence there (subliminal perhaps – love or loathe, it can be surprising where influence can come from) or then again maybe not. Again, one shouldn’t assume.

    I liked the essay but then statement did enhance the understanding of it. Without the statement I may not have taken the significance of the work. This isn’t a problem I feel, unless it is intended to be shown in the absence of a statement anywhere (but that also may only be my interpretation).

    Anyhow, a very nice piece of work. Well done. Great going to get it out there and congrats on burn.

    Regards. Peace (or perhaps that’s shalom :)

  5. “As he thinks in his heart, so he is.”-jewish proverb

    even without the wonderfully skilled, succinct statement, I was though Chloe’s essay was mesmerizing but more than that transcendent of it’s subject. The wonderful and imaginative understanding that the photographer shows toward the vacationers yields itself to a great inspect of all out ‘other’ selves and lives and experience. The ‘odd’ and nearly surreal procession of moments and imagines, with the Orthodox ‘colliding’ with our expectations (their dress against contemporary dress, wearing their clothes against the backdrop of this Welsh see-side town, the powerful and sometimes disorienting collision between the darkness of the clothing and the brightness of the summer colors and light) of this small Welsh resort town. Besides the humorous and tender moments, Chloe has shared with us something deeper than the collision of this surreal juxtaposition: the sense that all families are alike in their gathering and in their difference from the world that surrounds them.

    On repeated viewings, what i enjoyed richly wasn’t the collision of the two distinct worlds, but of the depth of our access until i felt as if i were too simply folding my way through family album and memories….the grandmother on her chair telling a story of all that came before and at last those final two children, the world stretched wide with their dreams and hopes and possibilities against the curve and bend of the future world…..

    just a wonderful, thoughtful and terrific essay….

    can i be blunt enough to ask for more?…pictures of the townspeople too…:))

    great job and congrats on publication
    all the best

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  7. Congratulations Chloe on being published on Burn.

    Well… I don’t usually comment on essays but this one left me wanting more intimacy and closeness with the subjects. I felt it was more of a “looking in from the outside” that left me wanting to know more rather answering any questions.

    But thank you for allowing comments under your essay. I’d love to see you develop the story using the contacts and access you must have gained.


  8. i guess I am in a significant minority as I find this sterile and one dimensional. The style of storytelling does not speak to me on any level other than obvious. There is nothing here for me to do other than look at the picture, read the caption and move on.
    I can find no angle in the story. Is there one that I am missing?

  9. The images are very engaging. The one of the two young jewish men watching local boys jump off the pier spoke volumes about their story. I particularly enjoyed the family sitting on the beach, engaging as any family does on a beach outing, yet totally covered in black. I would like to see more engagement with the community also; however, I know this is difficult due to the community’s intent to stay separate. All this comes out in this essay. My first watching I felt left dangling with the boys looking over the town below, but the second time through it fit and ended the piece nicely. There but so removed from there. Good work Chloe. I love your photo skills with people. Excellent interaction with your subjects. And the color and clarity were very refreshing. Thanks for sharing.

  10. This year scraps of paper with swastikas on them were found littering the road near the student accommodation and a group of youths in the town centre chanted nazi slogans as a Jewish man walked by……………….and??????

  11. having photographed the Hassidics myself during DAH’s workshop, that they’re not so hard to photograph as one might think. Jay, another student photographed the Satmar while I covered the Lubavitch during Sukkot. They ask you don’t take photos on Shabbat which is their Sabbath. If you show them respect and talk to them as though you would anyone else, they tend to be pretty open.

    This essay is nice but I think it feels a bit empty. I don’t see celebration. I see Jews playing at the beach. And, while that is unusual to see for our eyes I don’t feel it’s communicating what it’s meant to be. It feels almost as though one of the Jews took a camera and was photographing their friends and family. I will say I think the strongest and my favorite is the very last image. Number 2 is really nice too – showing the photographer’s access. Women tend to dislike being photographed.

    The captions don’t tell too much about whats happening. too many “The Promenade”‘s over all, I don’t think I’m learning any more about who this group of Jews are.

  12. Congratulations Chloe. Nicely paced and edited. I’m with someone else above who commented on the diving image — i like it very much. Among the things that would bring this to the next level would be the addition, IMHO, of pictures made in different types of light — at night, indoors, eg — and some different lenses or framing — closer, tighter?

    I looked at your website, too — especially like the “bangers.” Some scary characters in there, eh?

    best of luck…

  13. Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    I have to agree entirely with the comment by Jason_Houge above. I went through this exercise – I took away the fact that these were images of people “not like us”; pictures of people in a place and in numbers not typically seen. And so having done that, having removed the ‘otherness’ what did I find was remaining? Really – to me – a collection of snapshots which honestly reveal little if anything new of the human condition. People who are alike enjoy collecting together in places of relaxation. We know this.

    I feel like with all the tremendously good photography being made in the world and the ideas possible within a community such as this – and any other for that matter – this essay falls short, falls flat even.

  14. Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    I have to agree entirely with the comment by Jason_Houge above. I went through this exercise – I took away the fact that these were images of people “not like us”; pictures of people in a place and in numbers not typically seen. And so having done that, having removed the ‘otherness’ what did I find was remaining? Really – to me – a collection of snapshots which honestly reveal little if anything new of the human condition. People who are alike enjoy collecting together in places of relaxation. We know this.

    I feel like with all the tremendously good photography being made in the world and the ideas possible within a community such as this – and any other for that matter – this essay falls short, falls flat even.

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  16. I have looked at this essay three times now. On the first viewing, I wondered what it was about it that caused it to be selected as a Burn essay – although I there were some good photos – certainly better than a typical family outing.

    On the third viewing, I got this strong feeling both of inclusion and exclusion, the inclusion mandating exclusion – coupled with how frustrating it must be to have a big gathering at the beach and then never do what people generally come to the beach to – strip off all but the minimal amount of clothing, plunge in and swim. As others have commented, #7 told the story most strongly to me.

  17. Thanks for sharing this, chloe, i found it really interesting.
    I too would like to see this goig alot deeper, i’d like to know more than these show but i guess that means you’ve done a good job :)
    and as an aside, the fact the girls wear tights at all times has made me feel itchy.

  18. nicely shot and composed. i thought the edit of images was adequate but was left feeling that i wasn’t sure what the author wanted me to take away from this piece.
    the last image was the standout for me!

  19. Nice but minor feature was my feeling. I’m guessing I have opposite taste to Jim by now. On the other hand, this would fit nicely as a small part of a larger project that is not necessarily about jews at all.

  20. A lot of these pictures are delightful, but I find myself wishing for more variety. They are all shot outside, in bright light, and are of people enjoying their free time. I would like to see shots that give a fuller portrait of the Hasidic Holiday — what the interiors look like, meal times, religious devotion, unguarded moments of family interaction. If you take away the costumes in the current selection, the photos lose much of their appeal. It’s nice that the some members of the Hasidic community in Britain have the standard seaside holiday, but why is that noteworthy?

    The tradition of the conservative sects of Judaism packing up their cultural and religious equipment and going off on holiday is fairly common, and it’s pretty interesting to see the lengths they will go (noted in your introduction) to recreate their home lifestyles in a new setting. I would like to see some of that.

  21. Fascinating, though maybe comes up a bit short. Still, I love these pieces that show us another small corner of the world we live in, no matter. So well done Chloe.

    I made a mad drive once through the Welsh countryside with my ex-wife from Kington to a rainy windswept Aberystwyth. Spent an hour there and did the hair raising drive back. So in a very small, six degrees of separation sort of way I have a small connection to this story, which is something I always like. Once again, thank you BURN for bringing the world to us.

  22. Hmmm…so we see that Hasidic Jews are just like everyone else when they go on holiday; well, I knew that already. Must be awfully slow these days at the Burn selection desk.

    But, wait a minute – wasn’t Freteur’s essay from Palestine a parallel, everyday portrayal as well? Aha, I get it now. People in conflict are just like us – we, who have the luxury of viewing from outside. Maybe Sontag is right, and we grow weary of the images of violence, losing our humanistic sympathies along the way. What is left to shake us up are essays with a connectedness of familiarity.

    The Burn editors are in overdrive, after all.

    (Number 7 is an exquisite image – that it wasn’t chose for a “Selected Photo” led to the thoughts above…)

  23. Chloe,

    There are several of your images that I have really enjoyed…Picture number 7 is absolutely great and I also very much liked picture 1, 9 and 20. Some of the others in my view did not live up to the level of these four and somehow, I was left overall wanting something more from your essay beyond these vacation shots of which a few seem a bit “ordinary” with the exception of the individuals are in the photographs… I would really have these four images as inspiration to go back there and dig deeper and maybe show other situations , ideally penetrate even more into the community if at all possible…. Hope you carry on with this work…


  24. Chloe,

    Congratulations on being published on Burn. There were a few really stunning photos, the portraits of the children, the diver and the last one were excellent. I think it stopped there for me though. The other images were flat in composition and lighting. I did really enjoy your website and think you have great skill but the flat shots pulled down the overall essay for me. As David would say some were pictures as opposed to photographs. It is difficult to compare directly but having seen Jason’s essay I thought it was more revealing and engaging. I guess it is hard for us to imagine exactly what you were trying to communicate or if you were just there to purely document. I guess my question is what was your intent, this is missing from your artist’s statement. Just out of curiosity are you shooting film or digital. There isn’t often a lot of dialogue about methodology in the comments, but for me it adds another layer to the story. I don’t want to go out an a limb here but I am thinking Leica with kodachrome.


  25. JEFF…

    your comment reminds me of a comment from a reader at my newspaper once many years ago…i had taken a picture of a black boy and a white girl who were watching a parade and happened to be standing side by side…and the reader wrote “how dare you , flaunting your lack of prejudice”….after that , i realized that reading reader comments was simply not productive in terms of any picture choices…an editor would be frozen solid if he or she tried to “play” the audience for what they might think…in any case, i am pleased that you already knew that the Hasidic were the same as everyone else on holiday….

  26. Well, I’m sorry for the delay on getting involved in the discussion, but I’m writing from a sticky internet cafe in Hampi, Southern India. The fan is juddering, the flies are circling, and the internet has been down here for the past 36 hours. I’m told a monkey chewed through the line…
    I appreciate you all taking the time to write so thoughtfully. This project has thrown up more questions in my mind than any other I’ve done, so it feels very exciting to have such thorough feedback.

    Unfortunately I’m unable to reply at length as the connection here is pretty tempramental.
    So, just a couple of points I wanted to make:

    The project was shot over a couple of 2 week periods, during the summers of 2008 and 2009. For those of you who mention that the piece was not in depth enough, I agree. I only had a two week window, so I had to work very hard to even get what you see here.

    Yes, I acknowledge what some people have said about the novelty of seeing these “unusual” people in close proximity, but in engaging with them on holiday, I was trying to get behind that novelty, and break the usual cliches of a community often misconstrued as austere and formal.

    As far as the comparison with Martin Parr, that makes me laugh – I was only just discussing his omniprescence with a friend the other day: Parr has covered everything, and seaside holidays are only one of the many many domains he’s made his mark on.

    Patricia – yes it was personal work.

    Frank – all was shot digitally, but I’m certainly influenced by the Leica masters!

    Sorry again for not writing more extensively and thank you everyone for all your comments. I’ve just started on a fairly daunting 10 month trip, shooting personal work, and I cannot tell you what a boost your compliments have been. I hope some of our paths will cross again in future.

    A special thank you to David for finding me out and exposing this piece to the wider world, and also to Ben Roberts for introducing us.

    Now running for an overnight bus – (a hot & sweaty) Chloe

  27. CHLOE..

    One thing I think we often forget about as a virtue, and which some photographers seem to be blessed with, is the ability to allow others to feel comfortable by there presence. And its this natural demeanor that places them with in a special place. As your photography will no doubtedly improve, you will find yourself capturing very special moments of people you barely know.

  28. Crowds of hasidic jews in stark formal dress frolicking on the seaside is a worthy subject, the pics raise all kinds of interesting questions, mostly about the viewers’ biases. The pics left me emotionally detached, but I liked some for their compositions and juxtapositions.

  29. Chloe,

    if i’d gotten these in four weeks of shooting a group of strangers i’d be rapt. These images are like a taster of how much talent you have- if you can keep this series up and get something more intimate,maybe focus on one family, well holy hell it will really be something. I’ve sent the link to your website to every photographer i know because i was simply so inspired by looking at it. Looking forward to seeing more of your work.

  30. I really really like your essay! It is great. the story is great (It is almost surreal) and I love your photos. It is very fresh and unpretentious which makes it stand out.
    I would love to see some photos of interior shots and their arrival. It could be visually interesting “They arrive in large groups, followed by huge removals lorries, bringing all their possessions from home, including children’s bikes, cookers and fridges full of food”

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  32. No eloquent critique, just love these photos as they are. For me you capture a sense of enjoyment of life and pleasure in each other’s company which I felt when around these people in Aberystwyth this past week.

    How exciting to find your photo essay which captured some moments of my week (and so the link has been shared widely).

    …….and sadly one more drowning this past week

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