Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Faster than the Speed of My Shutter

I am fascinated by the appearance of certain Chasidic men, the ones with full beards, peyes (the long and curled sideburns) and streimels (wide fur hats). Some also wear knickers, white socks and, on holidays, striped or black silk coats with sashes that resemble heavily tailored smoking jackets. In other words, they are dressed like Polish nobility from the 19th century.

Their look is compelling, yet it is a major No-No to be obvious about photographing them*. So, on the last day of Passover I was trying to be very sly as I tried to photograph some of these people as they walked to the Kotel (photography at the Western Wall, on holy days, is strictly forbidden). I found a place to sit near the steps leading to the Wall and positioned my camera, ready to snap as soon as someone interesting came along.

The problem, for me, was that these men, despite wearing bulky clothing and enormous hats, are FAST, faster than my camera! These are nimble guys, accustomed to leaping onto moving Israeli buses in a single bound, with either a prayerbook or children in hand. They also seem to have a sensor that lets them know when someone is taking an interest in them, and at that moment they accelerate. My digital camera, for all its miraculous features, has a distinct shutter lag. Although it's just a fraction of a second, it feels like an eternity compared to the speed of my SLR (at home!), and so I've often missed my subjects.

Frustrated, I left the Jewish Quarter to check out the Arab Market and then head home. As I exited the Olid City I noticed that many Chasidic Jews were heading home. I followed them, to a point, and found a spot where I could observe the community's comings and goings rather unobtrusively. With my camera zoomed, I started shooting again. After awhile I started to feel more sneaky than satisfied and decided to leave these swift moving people alone.

*I went on a guided tour of their neighborhood, Meah She'arim, and although the group was respectfully dressed, with cameras packed away, many of the youth there cursed at us and told us to leave. Apparently the extremists among them have been known to pelt visitors with nasty things!

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