Laura Pannack

For the LUMIX Stories for Change initiative, Laura Pannack travelled to Israel with Panasonic’s peerless full-frame mirrorless S1R camera to document a young Hasidic man taking his first steps into a different life.

“The first thing I did was set the camera to a square format to remind me of shooting analog,” Laura Pannack explains. The British photographer, selected by British Journal of Photography and Panasonic LUMIX for their Stories for Change collaboration, usually works with analogue processes for personal projects; this new commission presented the challenge of a less familiar way of working. “Learning a new camera from scratch helped the process. If I was using a familiar camera the process would have been faster, which I don’t enjoy,” she says. “I need it to be slow.”

Stories for Change is a groundbreaking initiative that aims to demonstrate the power of photography in driving positive change, and Pannack joins Catherine Hyland and Frederick Paxton in creating inspiring new stories using top-of-the-range Panasonic kit. Her commission saw her travel to Israel, where she spent weeks documenting a young man, Baruch, as he transitioned away from the stricter tenets of Hasidism and towards a freer way of being Jewish.

The project required extensive groundwork, and many months of involved research and development. “I had a friend, Theresa Breuer, who helped me, and we both soundboarded ideas, researched them heavily, and then took three trips to Israel together and I took one alone,” Pannack recalls. “My final trip was the most productive, as by then I had a greater idea of what I wanted to shoot and Baruch and I had built a connection.” 

Initially Pannack spent time with communities of people breaking away from Orthodox ways of living, but was struggling to find a focus, despite the charisma and warmth of the many people she met. Eventually she was introduced to a young man calling himself Moshe, and their immediate rapport made it clear that Pannack had found a protagonist for her story. Shortly afterwards, he revealed that ‘Moshe’ was an alias; his name was Baruch. “It revealed what a double life he had,” Pannack reflects. 

For such a sensitive subject matter, a delicate approach was crucial. The photographer decided that she would not take a documentary stance, but rather aim to visualise some of the emotional themes of Baruch’s interior journey using tableaus and symbols. “Most of the ideas for the images we built came from raw brainstorming around all of the themes that touch Baruch’s journey and that we all can universally relate to,” Pannack describes. “Journeys, change, transformation, struggle, release, reflection…”

I learned that, as ever, finding the person whose story you want to tell is like any relationship, there are many potentials; but once a decision is made, the excitement of exploring the world together can be incredible.

- Laura Pannack

Other sources of inspiration were grounded in Pannack’s exploration of Israel, as well as the research she did through making personal connections. “Theresa and I reached out to a huge amount of organisations and individuals who inspired us along the way,” Pannack explains. “I spoke to my friends who are Hasidic to see if there were songs and stories from the Torah that relate, so this was a great source, especially when selecting locations.”

Ultimately, though, Baruch himself was the main inspiration. Shoots would often take place after long drives filled with conversation, built on days upon weeks spent getting to know one another. “I learned that, as ever, finding the person whose story you want to tell is like any relationship,” says Pannack. “There are many potentials; but once a decision is made, the excitement of exploring the world together can be incredible.”

For this exploration Pannack was kitted out with the Panasonic Lumix S1R, a full-frame mirrorless camera boasting a peerless 47.3 megapixel sensor and intelligent in-body image stabilisation technology. “For stills, I always stick to a fixed lens; usually an 80mm,” Pannack says. “I placed the Panasonic S1R on the 5×4 mode to keep the crop.” The camera held up to the challenge of capturing the strong Israeli sunshine blanching the desert landscape. “The clarity and flatness of the image means it performs really well in harsh light, and keeps the highlights,” enthuses the photographer. The technical support she received throughout the project was also key. “Having the Panasonic team on hand was a lifesaver.”

Stories for Change also offered an incentive for Pannack to push her craft beyond stills photography. “I saw this commission as a real opportunity to learn more about making moving images and I’m very grateful,” she says. “I haven’t done a huge amount of moving image work but using the S1 was a wonderful way to explore this.” The mirrorless, full-frame hybrid stills and video LUMIX S1 camera offers powerful technology in addition to its ease of use. “I liked how the screen adjusted to ensure flexibility,” agrees Pannack. “It had so many features that I didn’t even know existed!”

Baruch may look like a complete project for now, but Pannack is perhaps not quite ready to let go. “If I had the funding I would continue the work,” she says. “Baruch has now cut his hair and his life has changed dramatically, so it would be nice to see this new identity he holds.” While the work so far has encapsulated the pivotal moment of his stepping into the unknown, its continuation might look at the results of Baruch’s decision, and the ways his life is different now: the ‘after’. The connection the photographer formed with her subject is clearly something that touched her deeply. “It’s a real honour to see him develop,” she says. “He’s so young and intelligent, so his transition is fast.” 

Pannack’s own commitment to learning through her creative work is as strong as ever, and Stories for Change was as much of a learning process for her as for Baruch. “I was reminded that projects can’t be rushed, that research takes time,” she says, “and that my passion for taking pictures is as strong as it was since the first picture I ever took.”

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