Picture special: an unorthodox view of Stamford Hill


The strictly Orthodox community of London’s Stamford Hill generally prefers to guard its privacy. But now a unique window into this thriving society has been opened by a gifted photographer — and the internet.

Over the past few months, hundreds of David Braun’s pictures have appeared on the photo-sharing website Flickr. He has been able to gain unique access to the community because he lives there, the scion of a Satmar Chasidic family and one of eight siblings.

Initially, he posted a few images which, encouraged by the feedback from other photographers, has grown into a steady stream.

Gradually, news of his work reached his own community and now his Flickr site can notch up thousands of hits in a day — an indication of how the internet, despite rabbinical reservations, is penetrating the Charedi world.

“It’s gone beyond my wildest dreams how it escalated,” he said. “It’s something private that became public.

“I prefer to have the natural pose. Ninety nine per cent were not aware the picture was taken. Now they are a lot more aware but they don’t mind. I thought there’d be a huge backlash against me but there isn’t.”

Now 38, Mr Braun, whose father, Marton, is a serious art collector, was keen on photography in his teens. “I had my developing unit at home. One day everything was stolen and I forgot photography for many, many years,” he said.

What helped him back was his mother, Gitl, who graduated from art school three years ago at the age of 56 and who became interested in photography herself. “She kept discussing what she was studying,” he said. “A year ago, I suddenly picked up a camera. It was almost as if time hadn’t passed by and I started clicking again.”

Shooting mostly in black and white, he counts among his influences, Roman Vishniac, the photographer of pre-war Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe.

But whereas Vishniac’s work became a homage to a “vanished world” — as his postwar book was titled — Braun’s photographs are a reflection of the most rapidly expanding part of modern Jewry. His ability to overcome its habitual shyness he sums up in a single word: “tact”.

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