PROSPECT HEIGHTS — It was simple curiosity that brought Chie Nishio to Crown Heights in the early 1990s.
The longtime photographer came to Manhattan from Tokyo in 1969, moving near the Diamond District. There, she remembers seeing Orthodox Jewish men with “long beards and wearing the black hats.”
“I was always curious about them,” Nishio, 84, said.
When she married a non-observant Jew, she became even more interested in New York’s Jewish communities. She tried making contacts in Williamsburg to photograph the Orthodox community there, but had no luck. Then, a friend suggested visiting Crown Heights where, she was told, the Chabad-Lubavitch community was “more open to outsiders.”
What resulted was a yearslong photography project documenting the lives of Crown Heights’ Hasidim in the early and mid-'90s. Nishio photographed everything from children playing in the street to formal religious ceremonies led by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
“For me, everything important, I took a photograph [of it] because that is part of their life,” Nishio said.
Starting Thursday, more than 40 photographs taken by Nishio in Crown Heights will go on display at the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch on Grand Army Plaza, hung directly inside the library’s doors. Nishio hopes the new exhibit will foster understanding between the public and the city’s religious Jewish community.
“I want people to know who they are,” she said.
The black and white photographs show a “range of daily life,” said Barbara Wing, manager of exhibitions at the BPL, including images of families, children in school, weddings and formal portraits.
“It’s a broad and intimate portrait of the Crown Heights Hasidim,” she said.
One thing not portrayed in Nishio’s exhibit, however, is the Crown Heights riots, arguably the defining event of the neighborhood in the early '90s. She said she began her project before the riots, but was on a trip away from New York during the violence itself. And though she remembers seeing barricades and police officers in the area afterwards, she said the events were not “my point,” or the focus, of the photography.
A reception to open Chie Nishio’s photography exhibit will be held at the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch at 10 Grand Army Plaza on Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. The exhibit will be on display through Feb. 1, 2015. It is free and open to the public.