Photography and Text by Noa Baker, Copyright 2017
Coming from an Orthodox Jewish home, having grown up in my sheltered Orthodox bubble in a private school of 98 students, all of whom were, of course, Orthodox Jews, I admit that I am still shocked at moments by even the most conservative covers of Vogue. While adolescents my age lost their virginity at fifteen, I prayed three times a day and covered myself in long black skirts and blouses that buttoned over my collar bone. As per Orthodox Jewish tradition, not only did I desperately and possessively guard my virginity and hide any form of sexuality, I did not touch men at all. Not a handshake, not a high five. I cringed standing too close to men on public transportation.
These things were slippery slopes, I knew. A handshake could easily slip into a hug, a caress into the most forbidden kind of touching.
Erotic photography? I wasn’t aware that such a thing existed.
Like all good Orthodox young women, I dutifully shipped myself to Israel after high school to immerse myself further in Jewish learning in an all-women seminary. We all wore skirts to our calves and spoke in idioms like “I have a meeting with the Rabbi after shiur (Torah study), please God” and “I’ll be home around 10, God willing.” Did we think about fashion? Of course we did—we were normal girls, after all. Did we talk about boys and paint our nails and hit the mall on our breaks? Of course. But it was as though a thin veil separated me from the rest of the world, and everything on the other side was covered in a forbidden and tempting haze.
It doesn’t matter how I dropped orthodoxy, or slowly found my way back to spirituality. But I’ve found that somehow my insular upbringing affects even the most minute moments of my day with surprising strength. Enrolling in a fashion photography class seemed like a lot of fun, a good creative outlet in the midst of a computer science and math – heavy semester. I had no idea it would force me to confront my conception of modesty. Why was I still blushing at a photo with cleavage, while other students unabashedly photographed models in the nude on Locust Walk?
In this shoot, I tried to honor my roots. Erotica in the orthodox Jewish community has nothing to do with nudity, with bare breasts or an exposed thigh. No one within the community would think of such things. Instead, sexuality resides in subtlety: in a glance across the separation wall between man and women during prayer services (in an Orthodox school, this was the only co-ed interaction), in wild hair creating a halo around covered shoulders that refuses to be tamed despite the rigidity of dress, in dark lipstick (discouraged), in full lips, in confidence, in the forbidden.
About The Author: Noa Baker is a Sophomore enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Noa Baker, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/noa-baker-street-fashion/