Sept. 22, 2006
Photos from back in Uman
Exhibit documents Breslov Chassidim's pilgrimage to Ukraine.
Lorne Greenberg looks like he has just stepped, Mary Poppins-like,
right out of one of his photographs. Black fedora, white shirt,
black pants he could be a part of the crowd in any of his
The quiet nature of his voice, along with his slight stature, make
his presence all the more understated and reflect the tranquility
of his current work, Journey to Uman.
A collection of 24 prints, Journey to Uman, currently showing at
the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, captures, in photojournalistic
style, the pilgrimage of tens of thousands of Breslover Chassidim
who journey every Rosh Hashanah to Uman, Ukraine. Reb Nachman of
Breslov spent the last few years of his life in Uman and, prior
to his death, he asked his followers to daven every Rosh Hashanah
at his gravesite.
The images that Greenberg has displayed present an intriguing look
at these men in prayer, at rest, at play, in conversation and in
solitude. Because the photos are in black and white, many of them
succeed esthetically based on the purity of composition, pattern
In "Alone in a Moment," the subject, in black, sleeps
in a roomful of empty chairs. His dark clothes and hat, as well
as the softness of his pose, contrast against the stiffness and
color of the white plastic chairs. In "Prayer on a Precipice,"
another quiet moment is captured, conveying the feeling that these
few devotees could be alone in the universe.
"Tikkun Klali" shows an open prayer book, with a pair
of hands just visible near the edge of the photo. Nothing takes
away from the focus on this prayer the reason why these Breslov
followers have made the pilgrimage to Uman.
As Greenberg prefers to work with a wide-angle, rather than a telephoto,
lens, he captures numerous details in each photo, sometimes making
it more interesting, but sometimes making it distracting.
The technique is successful in "Night Market," a candid
moment of two men haggling in a shop. They are off to the left of
the photo, with a view in the background of the rest of the store,
but the energy in their conversation keeps them as the focus of
But in "Shofar," the focus on the little boy and shofar
is weakened as the viewer's eyes are drawn away to a man's face.
He's looking at something over the heads of the others in the image,
but whatever he is looking at is out of view. The same thing happens
in "A Familiar Face." Two men meet each other in a crowd
and shake hands, but again, a man behind them distracts us. What
is he looking at?
Greenberg explained that often these details appear in his exhibited
work because he rarely crops his photos: "There's something
random in the way that I work," said Greenberg. "All of
these things are just part of it all. There's something that I'm
photographing, and then there's everything else that's going on."
Perhaps the most successful of Greenberg's work are those images
that present surprises the more one examines the photo. In "The
Visitor," a man asleep in a tent seems at first to cast an
odd shadow on a wall beside him. Then we realize the shadow is that
of a wanderer outside. At first, it almost looks like a woman dressed
in a burqa, but the slightest bit of white indicates that the person
is actually wearing slacks.
In "A Conversation," two men talking cast shadows on a
nearby wall. Over one shadow, a discoloration on the wall looks
exactly like a cartoon word balloon waiting to be filled in. And
in "Timeout," in the background, a makeshift table has
been created using what looks like the empty box from a Sharp TV.
Greenberg first became enamored with photography more than 35 years
ago, just prior to entering law school at McGill. Eventually his
interest led him to a master's of fine arts at the University of
Arizona in Tucson in 1983. His curiosity has taken him through several
genres, including creating in-camera paper-positive prints using
cibachrome; experimenting with multiple exposures; black-and-white
small- and large-format negatives; and slide photography.
His projects tend to vary between the experimental and photojournalistic,
but he always journeys to a location in order to do a specific project,
rather than taking photos where he happens to be on his travels.
To that end, he has received Canada Council grants to do projects
in Mexico, South America and India.
"I would only go places if I had something I wanted to do there,"
he explained, adding that, closer to home, he has photographed the
burnt ruins of the Okanagan fires, as well as the devastation of
the fires in California.
In 2004, he happened to be at a dinner with someone who knew his
family in Ottawa. Though Greenberg had known his family was from
Ukraine, near Kiev, he had never known what the specific village
was. In this moment of Jewish geography, the acquaintance, who was
from the same area in Ukraine, was able to tell him the shtetl's
name Golovanevsk. Wanting to learn about the area, Greenberg
Googled the nearest large town Uman and learned about
the Breslover Chassidim.
Journey to Uman runs at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver
until Oct. 18. For more information, visit www.jccgv.com.
Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer, photographer and
illustrator living in Vancouver. Her work can be seen at www.orchiddesigns.net.