Visitors to the National Portrait Gallery in London between now and late February of next year will encounter a striking photograph of an 11-year-old, redheaded Hasidic Jewish girl in synagogue. The photograph is almost painterly in its composition, color and lighting, giving an impression of timelessness.
The portrait, “Chayla in Shul,” by photographer Laura Pannack, is the winner of the 2014 John Kobal New Work Award and part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition of 60 new portraits by some of the world’s most exciting contemporary photographers. “Chayla” is part of an in-depth project Pannack is pursuing on the local Hasidic community in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood for the past three years.
I second what the reporter says: it’s the execution of this photograph as much as the content that makes it so noteworthy.
Per the title, I think the portrait of Chaya reminds me most of this portrait by Ingres:
Or do I mean this portrait by Velazquez?
Either comparison is exceptionally favorable.
The reason I spend time with people is to get a deeper understanding of who they are and to ensure that they are comfortable. It’s tricky, as perhaps I shot less than I would like, because I am conscious I am meeting people who are very sensitive to having their picture taken. I spend time with people by visiting their homes, having meals with them, playing with their children, volunteering my services, taking pictures for them rather than for me, and celebrating festivals with them. It is important to me that they get to know me.
Chayla is intelligent, adult and extremely quiet. Photographing her was an honor. I find it frustrating when I can’t get to know someone. I often use silence in my work to create tension, but with Chayla it was forced upon me as she didn’t really open up. Even now, after knowing her for years, she is incredibly shy around me and I am still trying to get to know her. It wasn’t challenging that she was silent. It just made me nervous. I think [silence] is a wonderful quality — I talk far too much!
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” the saying goes, but the same holds true for many art forms that reach us nonverbally. (An earlier version declares “writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics.”) I’ll let the image speak for itself for now.