Laura Pannack’s new project tells the story of Baruch, a young Hasidic jew in search of his identity
The London-based photographer has returned with an empowering series and film, documenting the transformation of a young man as he enters a new phase of his life.
- Ayla Angelos
- 7 January 2021
Laura Pannack has spent the last few years travelling to Israel, for both photography purposes and for leisure. After a commission from 1854 Media that briefed her to shoot a series on the theme of Stories for change, she saw this as an “unusual” opportunity for its creative freedom. Supported by Panasonic, Laura packed the kit and used the budget to fly out again – only this time she went armed with a sharp focus to find something new.
“After two trips and a lot of research, I had three ideas in three different parts of the country,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I knew I needed to settle on one as the deadline was looming, and I had spent the budget already on my initial first visit.” Working closely with her friend Theresa Breuer, the two decided on settling in Jerusalem. Here, they’re stumbled on a burrata – “a place or house where people come to socialise with other Jews who are also living two lives, both in the Hassidic Orthodox community and a more liberal life outside of the traditional rules.” Then, Laura’s third trip involved meeting Baruch, a young Hasidic man. From there in, they knew they wanted to make some work together.
After much consideration as to how best to proceed with the project, Laura found herself sound-boarding ideas with the producer Bryony Fraser and her “sidekick” Theresa in order to assert the types of themes they wanted to convey. Although uncertain as to how to first approach the work, the team were sure that Baruch’s story needed to be different – “beyond the obvious”. In this sense, a typical documentary project wouldn’t have sufficed “and would negate the essence of his transition.” The result of which is a compilation of both moving and still image, intertwined stylistically in order to tell Baruch’s story in the best way possible.
It’s important to note that Baruch hasn’t completely abandoned his Jewish identity, more that he’s exploring other ways of life outside of what is a traditionally a very private community. As such, Laura chose to centre the project on “firsts” – “growing up, loneliness and independence, lots of things we can all relate to.” So within both the photos and the film, you’ll see Baruch wondering, exploring and swimming in a fashion that almost appears childlike in its innocence and charm. Baruch decided to leave the community at the age of 16 to attend university, having recently taken his first steps out into a new world. “Being Jewish isn’t just a religion,” says Laura, “it’s a rich culture and a complex identity. The images needed to be playful and not too forced; I wanted us to build them together.”
Throughout, special attention is paid to the candid moments formed between photographer and subject. With soft muted tones, and postures that enact a sense of calmness and trust; you can tell within an instant that the two are fond of each other and their work. In one image, Baruch is chest-deep in the sea while a pastel-tinted sky reflects onto the water. He’s looking downwards, with his reflection making him look smaller than normal – meanwhile the vastness of the sea evokes a sense of endless possibility. There are a couple of other shots of him in his home, one with a smartphone in hand a slightly concerned expression. Another, he looks longingly into the lens. These more intimate shots are paired with expansive landscapes, where Baruch toys and plays with his surroundings like he’s walking over them for the very first time.
Asking Laura about the moment she showed Baruch the finalised imagery, she responds: “He loves them! I adore Baruch.” Very much a muse and inspiration of her own, she refers to Baruch as an “incredibly intelligent” person whose curiosity is what shines the most. Particularly for the fact that he’s stepping into the unknown so that he can study and travel – a move that she calls “brave” and done so “with integrity”, rather than an act of rebellion.
“I really hope viewers can relate to him,” says Laura, of how she hopes her audience will respond to Baruch’s story. “I would love for his choice to be a reminder that we don’ have to abandon our identity to explore new paths. Baruch is proud to be Jewish and I hope his story is a reminder that being Jewish is not as simple as the clothes worn or he rules followed. It is a complex and layered cultural identity build on tradition, philosophy, community and values.”
This leads us to one incredibly lasting point, and that is how this project is here as a portal into one person’s quest for identity. It’s telling, just as much as it is comforting, knowing that life’s choices aren’t always linear or controlled. With plans to continue working with themes that both inspire and uplift those around us, Laura’s future plans are something worth keeping an eye out for – if this one is anything to do by.
You can watch Laura's film via BJP's Lumix Stories for Change here.
GalleryLaura Pannack: Baruch. This work was made in partnership with 1854 media and supported by Panasonic Lumix. (Copyright © Laura Pannack, 2020)
Video credits: Theresa Breuer (her sidekick). With thanks to Damiano Vukotic at RSA , Baruch, Yaacov, Yosef, Millie, Yoni and all those that supported this project.
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.