The journey of my Rabbibi photo series began in 2014 when I bumped into Getzy, the Rabbi from my Shul, on a Wednesday afternoon. I was immediately drawn to his outfit -a pair of jeans and NewBalance sneakers. He saw from my expression that I had not expected to see him dressed this way. He smiled and explained that he was in his orthodox “uniform” on Shabbats and other holy days but was wearing clothes like mine the rest of the time since there was obviously nothing preventing him from doing so.
That’s when it hit me. Rabbis shouldn’t be labeled by the clothes they were or the setting where we see them. It’s not a sin to like fashion, music, or art and I wanted to capture that somehow.
I decided to organize a photoshoot with Getzy in Wynwood, a hip neighborhood in Miami surrounded by art, where I often hang around to take photos. I loved this idea of seeing a Rabbi out of his element and letting his Judaism shine in a different light. I offered him some of the photos and ever since that day, he’d always tell me how much his Orthodox friends were liking them.
In 2015, I exhibited at Art Basel some of my “street photos” and decided to add the one of Getzy to the mix. I did it for fun and wasn’t sure what to expect as most of the crowd was not Jewish. I was shocked to see that most people were drawn to Getzy’s image. There was just something special about those photos right from the start.
In 2017, I decided to give it another go and hired a friend of Getzy, another young Orthodox with a similar cool vibe that I felt from the start. During the photo shoot, I handed him a guitar and asked him to pose before an art wall with the word “Love” written in huge letters. I wasn’t sure if he would be comfortable with the setting, so I asked him. Menachem replied: “What’s your problem? The guitar is music, symbolizes Simha (joy) and the graffiti says Love. We’re right into the Torah!” That's the exact message I was trying to convey with these photos.
Fast forward to 2019 where I’m sitting at a dinner table with some close friends who are not observant at all. We get into a debate on religion and how they find Orthodox Jews to be too strict and radical. It seemed as if all my arguments were not being heard until I showed them some of the Rabbibi photos. Right away, they were surprised to see these "extremists" had agreed to take photos like this and it seemed to be removing the judgement from their head. Long story short, the debate ended right there, and I sold my first picture on the spot…
I realized at that moment my photos may have more meaning than what I thought. They can blend any world Jews live in. They’re a way to express Judaism differently, erase labels and prejudgments, and see Orthodox Jews through a new lens.
Born and raised in Paris, I’ve been living in Miami since 2000. I got into photography when the mid-life crisis came knocking at my door. I dove right into it and haven’t stopped taking pictures since. I became passionate about street photography. Most of my work is about “catching the moment” at impromptu settings. This 1/100th of a second that could vanish in time but will remain alive for posterity by the click of a button truly fascinates me. Some of my street photos can be seen here: brunozerdoun.com