New set of portraits to shine a light on British Jews in all their diversity
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Limmud 2021

New set of portraits to shine a light on British Jews in all their diversity

Photography initiative is response to frustration about the media's knee-jerk use of photographs of Charedim to illustrate stories about Jewish community

Rabbi Yechezkel Mandelbaum and Tilla Crowne
Rabbi Yechezkel Mandelbaum and Tilla Crowne

A groundbreaking initiative to demonstrate the diversity of the Jewish community to the British media has been unveiled.

Keith Kahn-Harris, senior lecturer at Leo Baeck College, teamed up with professional news photographer Robert Stothard, to produce portraits of the Jewish community in all its diversity.

Kahn-Harris explained to Limmud attendees: “A few years ago I started to notice something strange in the British news media. Whenever a story appeared about Jews, it was often illustrated with a picture of a male, Charedi Jew – usually taken from the back.”

One image in particular appeared in numerous publications.

“This particular image taken of two Charedi men from behind is often used in articles which have nothing to do with that subset of the community – for example about antisemitism at Oxford university. I was also concerned that this image has an air of mystery to it. It is quite a dark picture and you can’t see their actual faces.”

Keith Kahn-Harris

Kahn-Harris managed to track down the photographer responsible, Robert Stothard, who was commissioned to take it by the  leading visual media company Getty Images.

Stothard recalled an assignment in 2015 to produce images to accompany a story on greater police protection in Jewish communities. He was sent to Stamford Hill.

“The reality is that when an editor sees a story about British Jews they immediately think about the Charedi community,” he said. “There was never a question about where I was going to be sent.”

The highly experienced photographer, who has snapped elections in Egypt and conflict in Ukraine, quickly realised the difficulty of his task. “I needed to produce pictures of the Jewish community with police on patrol. I needed a lot of moving parts to come together which I didn’t have control over.”

Tilla Crowne

An additional complication was that the picture was taken on Shabbat.

“I knew what Shabbat was but I didn’t understand its full meaning. I’m conflicted about whether I should have been there in the first place.”

What does a Jew look like

After meeting Kahn-Harris, the pair initiated a project to produce a book of portraits of Jewish people from a diverse section of society.

Many of the images also include a symbol chosen by the subject, alongside a personal explanation of what it means to be a Jew. “Having now completed the photographs, I still don’t know what a Jew looks like,” explained Stothard. “I’ve learnt everything and nothing! Part of the reason behind the title is to add to people’s assumptions about what the community looks like.”

What does a Jew look like? will be published in April 2022 by Five Leaves Publications. Pre order here 

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