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Award-Winning Photographer Captures Lubavitch

Friday, 6 November, 2009 - 7:25 am

ar5.jpgAs the winner of multiple awards and with a portfolio that boasts politicians, royalty, fashion models and film stars such as Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and Agyness Deyn, Frederic Aranda is regarded as one of the world’s most exciting fashion and portrait photographers.

However, it is the world of Lubavitch rabbis and their families that forms the unlikely subject for Frederic’s first solo-exhibition, entitled Kosherface, which takes place this month in London.

“It all began when I was a student in my final year,” recalls Frederic who had started to explore portrait photography as an alternative to painting while studying at the University of Oxford.

“I was looking through the classifieds for a place to live. I responded to an advertisement for a room in a Jewish house. When Rabbi Eli and Freidy ar7.jpgBrackman opened the door of the Chabad House, I immediately realised this was an Orthodox Jewish home.”

Although not religious himself, Frederic saw living in the Oxford Chabad House as an opportunity to experience and learn more about his own cultural heritage.

“My previous experiences of Orthodox Jews in London and New York made me think that it would be difficult and perhaps even uncomfortable living there as a non-religious Jew,” admits Frederic.

“My expectations were shattered. I could ask them anything without them judging or coercing me.”

Over the course of the year, Frederic transformed his attic room in the Chabad House into a makeshift photographic studio.

“By that time, I was using photography to record my fascination for the world around me - things that were important to me and made an impression on me.”

It was on the occasion of the circumcision of the Brackmans’ son, Mendel, that Frederic started to photograph the Lubavitch community.

“The house was full of people and I saw it as an amazing opportunity for me to get portraits of this fascinating world in which people define themselves first and foremost as Jewish. I got them to come up one by one into my room and sit for me.”

In the seven years since taking those photos in his makeshift studio in the Chabad House, Frederic has forged successful career as an award-winning fashion and portrait photographer whose work regularly appears on the pages of arB.jpgVogue, Vanity Fair, GQ and the Sunday Times. During this period, he has also spent time amongst the Lubavitch community in London and Brooklyn, and travelled to places as diverse as Tokyo, Milan, Paris and Berlin to explore the Lubavitch world.

His work depicting the Lubavitch community includes striking and original images of Chabad emissaries and their families, weddings, circumcisions, reggae singer Matisyahu and a group photo of 3,000 rabbis from the annual conference of Lubavitch emissaries.

These photographs form the basis of his exhibition, Kosherface. Whereas most exhibitions focusing on Orthodox Jews are linked to a Holocaust or Israel theme, Frederic wants to use photography to depict his experiences and encounters with the Lubavitch world.

“With this show, I’m not exotifying the stereotype of a Jewish person,” says Frederic. “From a fashion photographer’s perspective, the Lubavitch community is a fascinating subject. There are a lot of things about how Lubavitch men dress which are echoed constantly in men’s fashion throughout the world.”

Although women in the Orthodox community are often considered to subservient to men, Frederic sees it differently.

“Photographing women in Lubavitch was very refreshing because – contrary to arA.jpgexpectations – they are very strong, know who they are and what they want.”

“I’m used to photographing models and for once this is a group of women who aren’t interested in prioritising vanity and fashion. They’re actually thinking about more important things and there is a lot more there to photograph.”

Frederic’s interest in Lubavitch as a subject for his exhibition goes beyond a professional curiosity.

 “I’m genuinely interested in depicting what is beyond the uniform and all that accoutrement. There is a lot of energy and passion in the Lubavitch community and I wanted to show that.”

“Putting on an exhibition showing my celebrity portraits would ultimately not be very interesting,” admits Frederic.

“It is much more interesting for me to do something that challenges myself and others. People are genuinely interested in learning more about the Lubavitch world and I think that I’m in a very good position to bring it to a larger audience as I appreciate the work they do and the way they live from my first hand experience.”

Kosherface runs November 13 - December 02 2009 at THEPRINTSPACE GALLERY, 74 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, London E2 

[All photos Copyright Frederic Aranda]

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