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Capturing the Moment

Barbara Bensoussan

He found his calling by chance, but today nothing is as natural as preserving life's most important events with a click.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Most professional photos are posed portraits — what you might call “still lifes.” They decorate the walls of proud Jewish homes: beaming newlyweds, bar mitzvah boys in their crisp new suits. Most people are eager to preserve a record of how they looked in their finest, on the day of their most special occasions. But the soul of a simchah isn’t about the suits, or the gowns, or the makeup. The soul is in the meaning it holds for the family and friends; it’s in the joy that erupts on the dance floor or under the chuppah. It’s that energy that Benjamin Kohen tries to capture. Pictures get the memorable moments, but is it possible to turn photography from “still life” to “soul life”? A glance at Benjamin’s portfolio shows both posed and spontaneous shots that reflect a fusion of the measured dignity and explosive simchah of Jewish weddings. Here are moving shots of elderly grandparents blessing grandchildren; mothers barely restraining tears under a chuppah; a mesader kiddushin scrutinizing a ring or presiding over the kesubah; adorable children who have wreathed themselves in shtick; a chassan lifting his foot preparing to smash the glass. Benjamin’s images, with their artistic command of light, color, and composition, have managed to garner acclaim outside the Jewish world, too. This year, the 33-year-old, Russian-born photographer was invited to join the prestigious Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA) and its artistic guild, the AG-WPJA — two elite, affiliated international groups of top wedding photographers. He is the first Orthodox photographer to merit membership in those groups, and says he’s still working hard to measure up to the honor. Out of hundreds of Jewish wedding photographers, what was it about Benjamin that made the guild take special notice? “I think what comes through is my love for it,” he says. “Where most studios are in it for the profit, I shoot because I’m in love with the special beauty of photography. I’ve shot dozens of weddings for free, as a chesed, and I’d do it again if blessed with the opportunity.” It’s not only loving it, but living it. “I own seven cameras, more than 40 lenses, and am still always on the lookout for new and better ways to do what I love.”

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