Sunday, February 24, 2008
NWHPC Feb Competition, Mitzvah
Mitzvah: From my point of view, this was the most important photograph that I entered in the February competition. It is a Jewish custom to place a rock on the headstone of a grave that you visit. The origin of the custom is lost but there are three theories. The first is that it comes from the Biblical story of placing rocks on the grave of Rachael the wife of Abraham. The second has to do with the sitting of the headstone, a very important part of the burial process in Judaism. Placing the rock on the headstone when visiting gives the visitor an opportunity to share in this important ritual. The third and the one that I find the most interesting is that the rock is a blessing, a mitzvah, passed from the visitor to the deceased as an aid in their entrance into Nineveh.
I became aware of this custom in a documentary on a Jewish cemetery in Germany. Not being Jewish, I consulted with my friend Paul Saltzman to see if this was practiced here and the possible meaning. I also wanted to be sure that I would not be seen as violating the grave by photographing the headstone. After speaking with Paul I spent an evening reading about the custom and pretty much decided how I wanted to approach the photograph. The main thing was to have only the stone or stones and headstones in the image. I visited a couple of Jewish cemeteries and chose one very near where I live because most of the headstones there were quite similar. I also wanted to include symbols that would immediately identify the headstones as Jewish, such as the Star of David and the Menorah in this photograph. It was also important to include the two Jewish letters that are shown below the Menorah. They are nun and pay, which is an abbreviation for “here lies.” These things were pretty much decided prior to going to the cemetery. I think that I was able to find a location that achieved my goals.
As far as the competition, the photograph was given much praise and said to be a very elegant image. However, no ribbon. Ribbon or not, I am very pleased with the image.
Nikon D200, Nikkor 18-200mm, 200mm, ISO 100, 1/3 sec, f/32 (yes, I know about refraction but sometimes that is preferable to out of focus; I wanted the writing on the second stone which was at least 10 feet away to be readable), +0.7 EV, heavily overcast day.