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The challenge of telling an entire story in one frame is something that drives photographer D-Mo Zajac. A display of her work Celebration: Jewish Community Photographs is on at the Library from 1 March until 5 June 2016, taking us into the lives of a Sydney community revealing glimpses of religious and cultural events.
As part of Multicultural March celebrations, the Library held a talk with photographer D-Mo Zajac, curator Anni Turnbull, and Rabbis Gourarie and Slavin, who feature in the Library's display.
The discussion covered D-Mo Zajac’s photography and the Jewish community. D-Mo revealed her professional and personal interest in tradition and ritual in Jewish culture.
“It was around Hanukkah time in 2010 that I went to take my first photograph of the Jewish community in Double Bay. I remember meeting Rabbi Dovid Slavin that evening. He kindly invited me to join his beautiful family to celebrate the ‘festival of light’ at their house. From that moment I began my five-year journey documenting the Jewish community here in Australia.”
D-Mo Zajac is a Polish-born, Sydney-based photographer who moved to Australia in 2006. She credits her fascination for other cultures starting around the age of six or seven when her father had a visit from a friend in the Dominican Republic. The sight of a black man in a small Polish village was unusual. She remembers cycling with her sister and Uncle John to the local baker and the amazement of other villagers.
In Poland D-Mo Zajac studied film and photography, working as First Assistant Director for five years on documentaries for German and Polish television. She came to Australia at the invitation of her twin sister.
“Despite a successful film and television background in Europe I couldn’t find steady work as a filmmaker in Australia and converted to still photography. What a blessing!” she said. “This was the beginning of my passion for photography. I began to love the challenge of telling an entire story in one frame.”
D-Mo Zajac has documented a variety of cultures, migrants and refugees. In 2009 Zajac started asking, “Who am I and what is my purpose?” It was then she discovered her own Jewish heritage; after being raised in Poland as a Protestant, her mother revealed to her that her grandmother had been Jewish.
Covering her first Jewish community event, Hanukkah at Steyne Park, in 2010 had a more profound impact on Zajac. It was at this time she first met Rabbi Slavin.
Rabbi Slavin talked about Our Big Kitchen (OBK), a community-run kitchen he started in the basement of the Sydney Yeshiva Centre in Bondi. With support from volunteers, meals are prepared and distributed to the homeless, to victims of domestic abuse and to people in crisis and families in need.
“Opened in 2007, the food in the kitchen is an excuse or a language or a medium, no different than sport or music or photography, art or cinema. Food is the medium we use but the actual product is rebuilding people’s confidence. It is community building allowing people to behave a sense of belonging. Whether that is mothers with postnatal depression or the elderly or people who are socially isolated. It’s a place where it’s easy to come to and where people immediately feel needed.”
Another program that Rabbi Slavin started was to give inmates an opportunity to rehabilitate. “After serving time for the community there is a simple choice. Either community gives the inmates a second chance or the criminals will. We have had an incredible success rate with the inmates, some have moved on and some are with us now. We invited Mike Tyson to talk to them about some of the mistakes he’d made. We get inmates to talk to children at risk.
“Gaol may sound glamorous from the outside but it’s one for the last places you want to go. One of the things we have done is to bring judges who have sentenced these people to talk over a cup of coffee. You can almost see the years of stress peeled away as they talk; they are just individuals. They can talk about the case. It is about turning society on its head.”