There are very few places in the world considered holy to several monotheistic religions, and Jerusalem is one of them. The Middle Eastern City is home to the three great faiths of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and close to a million people across these belief systems call the city their home. ADAC Reisemagazin, the German Automobile Club’s travel magazine was looking to feature a piece covering this often-times ignored fact of the area, and they reached out to Jerusalem-based photographer David Vaaknin.
The goal was to show the multicultural character and spirit of Jerusalem through portraits of locals from different backgrounds and religions working in the Old City.
Given David’s extensive knowledge and familiarity with the city, the magazine deferred to his creative judgment on who to use as subjects for the piece, deciding to go with his idea of focusing on a trio of artists and merchants to represent each faith. They settled on a Christian tattoo artist, a Jewish scribe and a Muslim fabric merchant.
The aim was to find unique merchants and artists and try to avoid the more cliché or obvious subjects. People you don’t necessarily see on your first visit to the Old City but ones you have to scratch the surface a bit in order to find.
ADAC Reisemagazin contacted David a month before the shoot date, giving him ample time to flesh out the creative direction of the assignment, choose the right subjects and the locations. Covering actual people in their jobs as opposed to models preserved the authenticity of the magazine feature, but it did present some challenges in the unrelenting heat as the sun hammered down.
As with most cases involving an assignment of this kind in Israel, it was hot. For example, the fabric merchant was wearing a traditional outfit which he actually suggested and insisted upon, but you could clearly sense that it was difficult for him so I tried to be quick and not impose for too long.
Another obstacle presented itself with the tattoo artist. David had to capture not only the artist but also the person receiving the tattoo, which required an equitable balance of frame space for both men to highlight the methodical unraveling of the ink. David had to capture the artist’s face along with the tattoo in-progress, so when he couldn’t get the right shot, he went in on another day to get the perfect moment. As they say, better late than never.
Other than these minor adjustments, the shoot progressed with relative ease and David handled the entire assignment by playing to his strengths. ADAC Reisemagazin was more than happy with his images, and David’s own social media posts of the project would seem to concur.
I always love photographing people, it’s an opportunity and an excuse for me to meet, talk with and get to know a person that perhaps, I’d never have met otherwise.
Certainly, these were people David was thrilled to meet. A tattoo artist who draws various figures of significant meaning to his patrons. A fabric merchant who sells clothing and fabrics to an assortment of customers, from Muslims to Orthodox Jews. A Jewish scribe who spends years writing Torah books and scrolls, a duty requiring an impeccable level of patience and focus. Certainly not the people David meets on any other day. And all these people were living within the walls of the Old City.
I haven’t really discussed this with any of them, but based on what I’ve learned from spending a bit of time with them, I believe that their interpretations of religion are, at their core, similar – each one of them lives and works in a field that thrives on coexistence.