TPL: Tell us about the series that you submitted to us. How and when did this project first manifest for you? What is the full story behind the project? What was the inspiration?
MZ: I don’t see myself easily fitting into any one group. Many of my views consist of positions that one would tend to find in very different groups. I can have at the same time, feelings of inclusion and exclusion. I can feel both acceptance and as an Auslander. It is a bit of a cliché, though still true nonetheless, that the camera can be a passport. It can be a raison d’etre amongst people and peoples you wouldn’t ordinarily be amongst. I found/find myself both photographically and personally being energized and pursuing photography in what would be called (although I hate this term) “subgroups”. I did this for seven months in Kibbutz Beit Alfa in the Jezreel Valley at the base of Mt. Gilboa in Israel. And, then again, photographing for several years in a rural upstate New York bar that effectively serves as the town green in the hamlet of Andes, New York. And, as you can see in the accompanying photographs, in the Haredi community of Satmar Jews in Williamsburg Brooklyn.
I was raised in a reformed Jewish home on Long Island. There really could not be a more differentiated approach to Judaism than that of the reformed Jews and the Satmar. I can have very different views of life than Satmar. Some of their stances, quite frankly, anger me. And yet, I am drawn. Who are they? Why do they do what they do? In the attached work, I ventured into Williamsburg on the Jewish Holiday of Purim. This is a visual day, to be sure. Basically, this is “Hebrew Halloween”. People are dressed in costumes. They are in a powerfully festive mood. They are celebrating the failed destruction of the Jews living in the Persian Empire. It is a moment of joy and vindication. It is a statement that at times when God seems most remote, God is there. I can’t think of a more needed day than this in these times.
With the camera, I was not a stranger. I was accepted. It was a basis for conversation, learning and growth. Photographically, I am looking to reveal the distinctiveness and uniqueness of these people. As well, allow myself to apply my chosen photographic style to make compelling, feeling and sometimes humorous imagery. I am drawn to images that show glaring and/or subtle juxtapositions. Often, these are evinced in facial expressions or body gestures. Other times in the light or color. I want my pictures to be strong. I want them to possibly entertain. I want you to feel. Something. Often, these are not necessarily pictures of anything. They are themselves. Themselves only. Then again, as often, they are quite rooted in precisely what is in front of me. This medium offers such an abundance of possibility and directions to go. Often, it’s difficult for me to discipline myself. But then, why should I?