Walking in the Hasidic portion of Williamsburg in Brooklyn is a bit of a surreal and anachronistic relish. I found this isolated neighborhood, home of the ultra-orthodox Satmar community, particularly photogenic as it seems suspended in time and contrasts heavily with the continuous metamorphosis observed in adjacent neighborhoods.
On Saturdays, during Shabbat, bearded men wearing modest uniforms and wide fur hats always seem in a hurry, while women covered with dark, long-sleeved dresses and turbans quietly push their strollers in residential streets where a sheer number of houses have barred windows. On Lee Avenue, the epicenter of the religious community, a multitude of small synagogues, rabbinic academies, shops, grocer’s, Yiddish and Hebraical posters pulse the life of the locality.
Taking photographs in Hasidic Williamsburg can be awkward. You clearly feel you are disturbing and pedestrians are here to remind you of your incursion. While capturing the intense and unusual urban scenery, I have received quite a number of hostile looks. Not long ago, I’ve been encircled by a bunch of kids who told me I was an “evil man”. Since their arrival from Europe after World War II., Hasidim have created a detached island, a few stops away from Manhattan, where sociological walls were built to re-create a traditional “shtetl” lifestyle and to protect them from change.
Today, the feelings of autarky and rejection are even stronger as the community faces the rise of gentrification in northern Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, where residential towers are inaugurated every month. Community leaders fear for the neighborhood’s identity as well as for the educational dilemma of teaching Hasidic youth according to the methods of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism with the annoying proximity of immorality.
Here are a couple of images I have taken between Winter 2009 and Spring 2011.
More images on my flickr
Words and Images by Charles le Brigand
All rights reserved. Une production de Brigand © 2011