Monday, 29 May 2017

Ofir Barak | Mea Sharim

Photo © Ofir Barak - All Rights Reserved
You'd be forgiven if you thought that the above photograph was taken in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but it's not. It's a street scene in the Mea Shearim settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel, and part of the photographic project of the same name by Ofir Barak.

We are told that the settlement was established in 1874 and its name is derived from a verse in Genesis 26:12. To this day, it remains an insular neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem with an overwhelmingly Hasidic population,  and its the streets reminiscent of an Eastern European shtetl. Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts. It is populated mainly by Haredi Jews and was built by the Old Yishuv (the Jewish communities of the southern Syrian provinces during the Ottoman period).

Interestingly, the numerical value of the words Meah Shearim equals 666, which allegedly has esoteric and kabbalistic meaning in Judaism.

When photographing the settlement and its streets, Ofir Barak felt he had to blend in, and altered his appearance and dress to do so. He grew a long beard, and dressed only in black. A short video of his photographs has been produced to publicize his effort to raise funds to publish a photo book. 

Ofir Barak was born in Jerusalem, Israel, and completed his B.A. in humanities ­(majoring in arts, and history). In 2014, he returned to Jerusalem, in order to photograph a multi layered project that would display the city and its people through his eyes.

A number of interviews with Leica Camera, Lens Culture, and FStop Magazine are available on his website.