Hasidim gather in Lezajsk, Poland, to visit the grave of Rabbi Elimelech Weissblum. (Photo by Pawel Figurski)


Photographer Pawel Figurski grew up noticing the abundance of religious life surrounding him. It was hard, in fact, not to notice it. He lives in Poland—one of the most devoutly religious countries in Europe.

“It seemed to me not only interesting in a social sense,” he recalled, “but I found it very picturesque as well.”

His exhibition, “Converging Paths: Photography of Pawel Figurski,” focuses on the many religious pilgrims he has observed in Eastern Europe. Figurski will be visiting U-M on January 27 for the opening of the exhibition, when he will participating in a round table conversation with U-M faculty members Geneviève Zubrzycki and Jeffrey Veidlinger. The feature exhibition will be on display through February 26 in the Institute for the Humanities seminar room, while an auxiliary exhibition highlighting his Jewish-themed photography will be exhibited in the Frankel Center’s seminar room.  

“For me, what is most fascinating about religion is the invisible boundary between the sacred and the profane,” Figurski explained. “I like to observe when people are passing through those spaces, leaving one world and going deep into another.”

The photo here, for example, depicts pilgrims who journeyed to the tomb of 18th-century Rabbi Elimelech Weissblum, regarded as one of the three fathers of Hasidism. The annual pilgrimage to his grave in Lezajsk, Poland, takes place to commemorate his yahrtzeit on the 21st day of the Hebrew month of Adar. 

“Figurski’s work challenges the ways Communist rule in Eastern Europe once sought to desacralize public space,” noted Veidlinger. “Just as quotidian life intrudes on even the most sacred of activities, the sacred is always present in the secular realm. His photos also demonstrate the ways different religious traditions have coexisted within the multiethnic mosaic of Eastern Europe.”

Ultimately, Figurski hopes that his work will illustrate the importance of spirituality, regardless of location or religion. “There’s an infinite plurality of the spiritual paths that one can choose,” he said, “and I think that they are all related to each other.”

(Frankely Speaking, December 2015)