When photographer William Castellana decided to try his hand at street photography in early 2014, he knew he wouldn’t need to travel far from home. Since 1997, Castellana has lived in South Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that’s home to a large and growing Hasidic population. Though the sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism is famously insular, the streets of Castellana’s neighborhood provided a unique glimpse into their world, their daily interactions and traditions.
“The street is fluid and you never quite know what’s going to happen,” says Castellana, who before embarking on this project had solely focused on still life photographs. “After looking at some of the images, I thought there’s a wonderful story here brimming with life and tradition, and that really piqued my interest. The photos are really just about the everyday happenings on the street and the humanity that can be found there.”
Over a year’s worth of photos make up Castellana’s South Williamsburg series, now on view at Chicago’s Loyola University Museum of Art. His photographs show men wearing the traditional round fur shtreimel hats enjoying each other’s company at a park on Shabbat, fleets of strollers and families visible in the background. Teenage boys in yamakas and pyot curls roughhouse near a fire hydrant, and women shuttle groups of children down sidewalks.
South Williamsburg became an enclave for Hasidim just after World War II, when Jews fleeing Europe took refuge in the U.S. The community has only grown since. In the nearly two decades Castellana has lived in the neighborhood, he says it’s changed very little–a stark contrast to the rapidly gentrifying North Brooklyn, where million-dollar condos and hip restaurants have ushered in a younger generation of residents.
“South Williamsburg remains an anachronism in relation to North Williamsburg,” says Castellana. Indeed, his photos of large families gathering together in the neighborhood recall an earlier time. “It’s a neighborhood where everyone is connected,” he says.
South Williamsburg will be on exhibit at Loyola University Museum of Art through July 23, and in 2017, they will be part of a group show at Zimmerli Art Museum in New Jersey.