Dikla Laor is an Israeli photographer who has embarked on a fascinating and ambitious project: creating “interpretive images” of all of the women in the Hebrew Bible, whether or not they are mentioned by name.
“There are so many female figures in the Bible,” Laor told Israeli news outlet, No Camels. “Each one is a figure with a story; even seemingly secondary characters who are only mentioned by name or by the name of their father, are granted a place in the stories of our sages, where they are given body and context. There are no ‘wasted’ words in the Bible; if it was mentioned, even if in name only—it has meaning.”
‘A Project of No Compromises’
Laor says Women in the Bible on the Golan Landscape is “the largest and most significant project of mine, as if all my loves have combined together in a project of no compromises.” She started the endeavor in 2013, getting the idea from the character of Job’s wife while working on another series.
Laor puts a significant amount of thought into each one of her creations. It can take her months or even years to decide what she wants a particular scene to look like. As she considers how she wants an image to look, she not only uses the biblical text to inform her idea but also does research by reading commentaries, modern literature, poetry and “midrash,” that is, ancient commentaries on Hebrew scriptures.
When she does a shoot, Laor has a plan for every detail about how the scene will look, from the appearance of the women and what they’ll be doing to what time of year will be best for the background. Laor says she is not concerned with portraying the women of the Bible “entirely accurately,” meaning she does not aim for a literal depiction of what the women of the time must have looked like. Instead, she uses Israeli women of all backgrounds. These women are typically her friends and relatives, but some are women she meets by chance. The woman who portrayed the Queen of Sheba was someone Laor met because they got in a fender bender.
Laor styles and makes all the costumes the women wear, typically creating them while on set. She prefers to create a “Renaissance aesthetic,” which Laor says she feels a “deeper connection” to. And despite living in Israel with easy access to many of the locations described in the Bible, Laor shoots her work entirely on the Golan Heights, which is her home.
Laor’s first 42 photographs have been published in a book titled Women in the Bible on the Golan Landscape, and she estimates that she has created portraits of about a third of the women in the Bible so far.
Laor says that as she has studied the women of the Bible, she’s found that “they determine the essential destinies of men and the families in their lives. Behind each man there is a ‘small’ female figure pulling strings, swaying and influencing.” But even though right now she is focusing on women, once Laor finishes photographing the women of the Bible, she plans to photograph the men as well.
One of Laor’s goals for these women is to “retell their biblical story, this time through them, front and center, and to illuminate them through the camera as saviors, women who were historically vital.” Another goal of hers is to help make the Bible more approachable for people: “I want [the photos] to make people read the stories. I want it to make people curious. I want it to help people return to read the Bible. It’s been forgotten at this moment in time.”