Acclaimed photojournalist explores the private world of Israel's ultra-orthodox
Photojournalist Gil Cohen-Magen releases his new book, "Hassidic Courts", an intimate and exclusive portrait of ultra-orthodox sects never photographed by outsiders before
By Lisa Richards, Nazarian Center Intern
On October 24, photographer Gil Cohen-Magen presented and discussed works from his new photobook, “Hassidic Courts," as part of a lecture series co-sponsored by UCLA’s Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion.
Cohen-Magen’s “Hassidic Courts” is the culmination of a decade-long project. In 2001, the Reuters news agency sent Cohen-Magen on an assignment to one of Israel’s ultra-orthodox neighborhoods where he would photograph the customs and traditions practiced during Tishri, the first month of the Jewish New Year. As a secular Israeli, this was Cohen-Magen’s first interaction with the Haredi (ultra orthodox) community, and he was captivated. He decided to embark on an independent project to photograph Israel’s Hassidic Jews in their private and most intimate moments.
Israel’s ultra-orthodox community is often framed as homogenous, but in reality, this is not the case. There are several different forms of Haredi Judaism, and Hassidic Jews compose one branch. Within this branch, there are dozens of different Hassidic sects, both large and small, and each has its own distinguishing features.
Cohen-Magen set out to photograph two highly conservative sects, and in the first step of his project, he worked on building a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Cohen-Magen’s photographs are intimate, revealing this spiritual and secretive world. His work transcends cut-and-dry photojournalism to become a work of art. Cohen-Magen's “Hassidic Courts” tells a story that reveals the nuances of the Hassidic community and breaks down stereotypes. He uses his camera as a tool of diplomacy, aiming to bridge the gap between Israel’s secular and ultra-orthodox.
Gil Cohen-Magen is a seasoned and world renowned photojournalist. During his ten-year career at Reuters news agency, his photographs graced the front pages of numerous newspapers and magazines. His work was featured in Reuters Top 100 Photographs of the Decade, and he has won multiple prizes for outstanding photography in politics, news, and religion. Now, as a freelance photojournalist, his work continues to draw international praise and recognition. “Hasidic Courts” is his first book.
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Nazarian Center for Israel Studies
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012