Unit I. Through a Jewish Lens - For Further Exploration

Here are some additional ways to extend this unit or explore its themes in greater depth:

Who Am I?

Have each student bring in three photographs from home that reflect something important about the student’s identity. Have students swap photos and write down what they see in each other’s photographs. Then have them share a little bit about their own photos and what they represent.


My Jewish Home

Have students take and then bring in photographs that answer the question: “What makes my home Jewish?” Have them share and discuss their photographs. They can then compare their work with photographs by Zion Ozeri that depict Jewish homes and families around the world.


Class Portrait

Discuss with students how they would like to present their class to other schools; then work together to set up a group portrait of the class. After taking the photograph, attouch to it a short text or description. The text could, for example, be a group poem that includes words or phrases that students believe describe their class community.


Exploring Composition

 The formal elements of photography include placement of shape, line, texture; camera angles; what is in and out of focus; framing (what is in the foreground, midground, and background); lighting and contrast, etc. A photographer must consider these elements in trying to communicate something about his/her subject. Zion Ozeri’s photos provide an opportunity for discussing the formal elements of photography. Choose a few of the images included in this packet to explore with your students. Below are some suggestions, along with sample questions and possible answers:

  • Klezmer Duo
    • What mood is created by the placement and pose of the subjects in this photo? Why do you think the photographer chose to do it this way?
      By posing the clarinetist high up on the swing, Ozeri creates a feeling of hovering or floating, perhaps recalling the nostalgic, otherworldly figures of Marc Chagall’s paintings of Eastern European life.
    • What kinds of shapes and lines do you see in this photo? How do the lines and shapes add to the power of the picture?
      The figures are framed within a structure of strong horizontal and vertical lines. There is a sense of tension between the rectilinear shapes and the organic quality of the klezmer music.
    • Why do you think the photographer included the child in the frame? What effect does that have?
      The boy provides an audience for the performance, helping to bring the music to life even more for the viewer. He also helps us connect the musicians to their broader social context.
  • Synagogue Attic
    • What is unusual about the way this image is framed? What effect does the framing have? What feeling does it create?
      The figure is framed by the mounds and mounds of old books. In fact, because of the perspective, the subject is dwarfed by the books in the left foreground. There is a feeling that the books, laden with history and tradition, could crush him.
    • Do you think this was a posed or candid shot? Why?
      It is, in fact, a candid shot (the man was reaching for his glasses when Ozeri snapped the picture). But it could just as easily have been posed.
  • Backpack
    • Why do you think Ozeri chose to do a close up of these subjects? What effect does it have? How might the picture have been different if more of the setting were included in the frame?
      Ozeri has eliminated all extraneous details from the photograph, forcing us to focus on the subjects and their physical relationship. Any bits of background that are visible are so blurred that they become irrelevant. The close-up allows us to really study the faces and expressions of the figures. The lack of context also gives the image a timeless quality, a sense that this could be anywhere or anytime.
  • Kindling Holiday Lights
    • What impression do you have of the subject in this photo? What effect does the camera angle have on this feeling? Why do you think the photographer chose this angle? How would the picture be different if he had shot it from another angle?
      The angle from below helps create in this woman a sense of strength and confidence. By shooting from below, Ozeri was also able to capture the glass lamps in the foreground, but by keeping them out of focus, he creates an illusion that they are simply hanging in mid-air.
  • Summer Camp
    • What point of view does Ozeri provide in this photo? What feeling does it create? What other points of view could he have used instead?
      Ozeri shot this photograph from the congregation, creating the impression that we, the viewers, are part of the group.
    • What is the focal point of the picture? How does Ozeri draw your attention to it?
      The focus of this photo is, of course, the raised Torah scroll. While we see most of the figures only from behind, we see the Torah straight on from the front. The pointing fingers of the congregants also guide our eyes toward the Torah.
    • What is the setting like? Why do you think the photographer included this background in the frame?
      The inclusion of the natural setting highlights the relationship between the Torah, the environment, and the children’s experience. It also reinforces the idea that prayer and spirituality are not confined to synagogue buildings.
  • Bomba Israel
    • What do you notice about the camera angle here? What effect does this have?
      Again, by shooting from below, Ozeri lends an additional air of strength and power to his subjects (including the youngsters). This angle also enables him to include more of the dynamic sky that’s part of this scene.
    • Why do you think Ozeri posed these subjects as he did? How else or where else could he have composed this group portrait?
      Ozeri posed this portrait outside, within the community that these firefighters work to protect.

 It’s often instructive to compare two different photographs in order to explore the choices a photographer has made. Have students compare the way Ozeri posed his subjects in Basic Training and those in Holocaust Survivor with His Grandchildren, or the camera angle he chose in Kindling Holidays Lights versus Scribe. What are the effects of these choices?


Candid, Posed, and Staged

You might want to explore the differences between candid, posed, and staged photographs with your students. (In a posed picture, the photographer tells the subjects how and where to stand, but they are not taken out of context or posed in unrealistic ways. A staged photo creates an unlikely or impossible scene or an entirely new reality through the setting, costumes, make-up, etc.) 

Have students look at some of Ozeri’s photos and try to decide whether they are candid, posed, or staged. Or have students take their own pictures and ask their friends to try to determine how they were created.

– Ozeri sometimes poses his subjects, but he doesn’t stage his photos. Have students compare his work that of a photographer who creates staged scenes, such as Cindy Sherman, Annie Leibovitz, or Frederic Brenner.


Jewish Photographers on Photography

 Many Jewish photographers have written eloquently on their own craft. Share some of the quotes below with your students and discuss their meaning, significance, and relationship to the students’ own work. (See Worksheet I) Students can also conduct additional research to find out more about these photographers.

[For background on these and other Jewish photographers, see the article “’As Seen By…’: Great Jewish-American Photographers” Heritage: American Jewish Historical Society Newsletter, (Fall/Winter 2003); or “Jewish Eyes: How Jews Transformed Photography,” Rose Eichenbaum, Reform Judaism (Summer and Fall 2004).]

 Paul Strand: “It is one thing to photograph people; it is another thing to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.” (Quoted in Reform Judaism (Summer 2004), p. 33.)

Ben Shahn (also a painter): “It is not just the artist’s experience, but his values, his judgment…that live in the work of art and make it significant to the public.” (Quoted in Reform Judaism (Summer 2004), p. 35.)

 Robert Capa: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” (Quoted in Reform Judaism (Summer 2004), p. 54.)

Roman Vishniac (on photographing the Jewish community of Poland in the 1930s): “I was unable to save my people, only their memory.” (Quoted in Reform Judaism (Summer 2004), p. 62.)

Arnold Newman: “Inevitably there is a great deal of the photographer in his finished product. If there isn’t much of him, then there isn’t much of a portrait.” (Quoted in Reform Judaism (Fall 2004), p. 36.)

Richard Avedon: “Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me.” (Quoted in Reform Judaism (Fall 2004), p. 40.)


Invite a Photographer

 Invite a photographer to visit your class to talk about the art of photography. You might also try to find photography mentors—such as parents, local journalists, college students, or artists/art teachers—who can help guide students throughout the project as they explore photographic technique and practice.


Calligraphy and the Scribal Arts

 As a corollary to considering the interpretive or textual value of an image, you might want to have students explore the aesthetic value of text. Jewish tradition places great value on the scribal arts—on making the words themselves beautiful. You might have students learn about Hebrew calligraphy and create their own works of art based on Hebrew verses.

 You might also have students examine some examples of micrography (a traditional artform in which pictures or designs are formed from minute inscriptions) and have them create their own micrographic designs. To see some examples, visit the online exhibition Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art to see some examples.