Passionate and concerned photography

For some 40 years self-taught commercial photographer Irene Fertik has been making her living documenting the work of non profit organizations in the US.

Ethiopian Jews are her passion. Recently in Jerusalem on her eighth trip to Israel to photograph the community she Fertik says that she perceives a downward trend.

On her first trip just after Operation Solomon in 1992 Fertik says that the welcome she observed was very impressive. But now she says I didn’t want them to grow up in a scarred society like in the US where blacks don’t trust whites and feel defensive or angry. I was expecting more from Israel because of what Jews have experienced over the last 2000 years. Until this year I denied it but I feel that racism is part of the reality in Israel.

She continues There’s less hope now. Many Ethiopians are alienated. They are more in need of money work and help than ever. They can’t compete because they’re not aggressive demanding and loud. They say they have to sell their souls to fit in because their culture is so different.

Fertik is documenting the Ethiopian aliya for her upcoming book From Tesfa to Tikva a photo journal and text documenting the absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

My whole thrust is to celebrate and to inform. I don’t dwell on the failures and the negativity but this time I became distraught to find there is an epidemic of suicides. I couldn’t ignore it.

Photographing the unveiling of a tombstone for an 18- year-old woman who took her life last month Fertik said she could not stop crying.

She likes to photograph intimately from within the community rather than from above she says and since beginning her project she has made many close friendships with Ethiopian immigrants.

The fact that she never married and has no children she says allows her to extend energy and openness to people I would like to remain in my life. So I say I’m coming to visit my mishpaha family . Although she is a successful commercial photographer Fertik’s photographs of the Ethiopian immigrants are not for sale. To use them for commercial gain would be exploitation she explains.

At 63 Fertik wears her thigh-length straight sliver hair loose down her back. She grew up in Cheltenham a suburb of Philadelphia moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently lives in in Los Angeles. The child of a writer and an actor Fertik says she was raised by her mother to believe she could become anything she wanted. The fact that there were no professional women photographers as she was growing up in the 60’s didn’t faze her. Inspired by the black experience in America she spent most of her career photographing black dancers sports events and the activities of non profit organizations.

Civil rights she says was my big issue.

She says that in part she identifies with the Ethiopian Jewish community because she is quite like them – shy and reserved.

From Israel Fertik is continuing on to Ethiopia where she hopes to photograph pre-Christian Hebraic influences on Ethiopian society.

To see more of Fertik’s photographs visit www.irenefertik.com

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