Essays, Reviews



Orthodox Jews


Ivan Benda keeps returning to Israelin order to photograph the people, Jews, Christians and Muslims depicted in his book. He has been to Greeceand is now going back to Italyto find Hungarian memories. I do not exactly know what drives him on or what he is looking for but fortunately he is not one of those photographers who subordinate their work to preconceptions. He visits a place he finds interesting and has his camera at hand just in case.

The photos seen at exhibitions are naturally the result of careful selection. Presumably the artist is directing our eyes in such a way. However, I see no concept here either whether be it beauty, wisdom, faith or even oddity. I do not think that these photos would belong either to exoticism or to the intellectual culture of the rebirth of Orthodox Judaism.  

A thin, frail figure is seen receding in the street of a shabby town, his dark clothes and hat, his long sidelocks extending on both sides beneath the cheekbones betray his true identity. He is at home, just as he has been at home in the Orthodox Eastern European small towns, in the stethls. It even seems that the cold and strict world of Eastern Europehas shifted its lodgings to a different climate and a different landscape. There is the everlasting mourning outfit for men worn even at times of great joy and only young boys are exempt from wearing it. Or there is the bearskin cap on the Mediterranean landscape. Or there are the silk caftans with grey stripes – a small concession from otherwise rigid rules. Or there is the powerful figure of a peasant, an Orthodox Jew taking a short break from his hard labor. And there are the scenes of a beautiful chat. Two younger women, two elderly men.

There may be some who watch these photos with the purpose of establishing contact with their Jewish origin. I don’t, although my ancestors could have been such people. I do not know anything about it, because three or four generations ago my great and great-great grandparents have forbidden remembrance: most probably they wanted to look modern and wanted to alter their conciliation with the Almighty. I cannot approve, nor condemn their decision; everyone must pursue their own destiny.

I turn to Iván Benda, the archaic Jew, just the way I turn to people who convey trans-individual samples. To people, whose movements, faces, behavior and clothing constantly refine through centuries and accentuate this process by each of their gestures. They pray, they celebrate, they sue, and they hug; directly dissolving their tradition, in sharp contradistinction to the majority of the world inhabitants. We do define ourselves in countless ways, they are simply Orthodox Jews. The wonderful sequence of images about these people bring peaceful tranquility to some and anxiety to others.

(Living Jerusalem– exhibition of photo artist Iván Benda. Spinosa House, Budapest.)