In images, in picturesIn the 1970s, photographer Meryl Meisler modeled her Jewish family and friends on Long Island, New York. New Year, bar mitzvah, weddings… His pictures sketch the portrait of a united and happy clan, reflecting a free and carefree era. A family novel exhibited as part of the Portrait(s) festival in Vichy.
In Meryl Meisler’s family photos, presented at the Portrait(s) festival in Vichy until September 4, one thing is obvious: the American photographer has not gone much further than her town of Massapequa, a hamlet on Long Island, near New York. She didn’t need to travel anywhere else to discover a unique, fantastical and visually strong subject.
This world that she illustrates is that of her own Jewish family, with its rites and traditions. Like this evening of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which takes place, according to the rhythm of the Hebrew calendar, in September or October. This festival is religious: it is not a question of party favors, disguises and excesses, but of celebrating the creation of the world.
People familiar with these rituals will identify in Meryl Meisler’s shots the lacy tablecloth required in Jewish families on festive evenings, with this sweet kosher wine that is consumed only in American Jewish homes. You just have to taste this drink that tastes like pharmacy syrup to understand why it has not spread to other communities…
A keen sense of hedonism
This evening is as much about the pursuit of an ancestral tradition as it is about an era: the 1970s. “I’m not going to take pictures, I take pictures where I go”, explains Meryl Meisler, born in 1951. However, the world that this New York public school teacher photographs between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the next decade gravitates between two distinct universes, a priori irreconcilable: the family unit , therefore, with its traditions and its roots in Long Island, and the nocturnal experience of the New York disco scene, of which Meryl Meisler was a regular.
How, watching the photographer’s mother, Sunny Meisler, in the middle of a dance floor, during a bar mitzvah, not see a connection with the world of fashionable nightclubs? How, in front of this man in a three-piece suit doing the splits at a wedding, not think of the exuberance of the nightclubs frequented by the young Meryl? Especially since the Meisler family poses with eccentricity, showing a taste for colorful shirts and baroque patterns. Everything about these photos underscores a strong sense of hedonism: a Rosh Hashanah that would last the whole year.
Added to this is an element that is more difficult to capture in images. That of history. Meryl Meisler’s grandparents had left Central Europe and its pogroms for America. His parents had pulled out of the economic depression of 1929 and, taking advantage of the boom in the early 1950s, had bought a Chinese-run farm in a Long Island hamlet where no one had yet settled. Thereafter, Long Island will become a prosperous place.
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Source: Le Monde