A new photo exhibition will focus on the Lubavitch community. Simon Round reports
AT FIRST sight, Frederic Aranda and Chasidic Jewry seem worlds apart . One i s rooted in tradition, Orthodoxy and halachah, while the other is a young, award-winning fashion photographer who spends his time working with models and stylists.
Yet, because of a chance experience at university, Aranda has been able to gain access to Charedi communities around the world to produce a collection of revealing images of Orthodox life.
The 30-year-old, Geneva-born photographer forged close links with the Lubavitch while he was a student, reading English at Oxford. “I needed a place to live in my final year and I ended up staying in Chabad House. It was an incredible experience. Every Friday night there would be 30 people in the living room for Shabbat — there was always something going on. “
Aranda does not consider himself particularly religious, describing himself as a “cultural Jew”. But he does feel a real affinity for the Chabad world. “The amazing paradox of the Lubavitch is that they have very strict personal stand- ards and they live in a kosher world, but they do not try to coerce or judge people. They are effectively an Orthodox movement for non-Orthodox Jews.
“I had a little photographic studio set up in my room at Chabad House. People would drop by. I was just doing what I normally do which is to take pictures. After all these years I have an incredible collection of photos.”
Some of these photos will be on show in an exhibition which will fuse Aranda’s interest in Charedi Jews with his day job as a fashion photographer. “The show is a mix of portraits of Lubavitch Jews with my own artistic impressions of Lubavitch style, as posed for by models or real people.”
So what made the Lubavitch an interesting subject for an exhibition? “I find their appearance fascinating. I look at their style which is very basic for the men. The formula is very simple — the men wear black hats, white shirts and black jackets. This is actually a classic formula in men’s fashion. For women, the key word is modesty, which is really refreshing for me. It’s so far removed from the women I see in the fashion world.”
Photographer Frederic Aranda
The Lubavitch rabbi of Oxford, Eli Brackman, punting on the river Isis. Below: Some of the 3,000 rabbis attending the conference for Lubavitch emissaries held annually in Crown Heights, New York