Name a Jewish or Washington-area publication over the past 40-plus years and Lloyd Wolf’s photography has probably appeared in it. That doesn’t count national publications, hundreds of exhibitions, including at synagogues and venues worldwide, or his books, blog and so on.
While his extensive portfolio includes photos of the famous, he leans toward social documentary work. Wolf’s are photos that convey stories, document the lives of little-known individuals, elicit emotion. His photos often explore people and communities, whether that’s the Jews of Morocco, immigrants in Northern Virginia, or Operation Understanding/DC, a program that brings together African-American and Jewish youths in the District of Columbia.
“I’m fortunate,” Wolf says.
That’s because at 68, his ponytail graying, he continues to link photography to what’s interesting and important to him.
“Particularly in these long-term projects, it allows me to reflect upon and consider what concerns me. It’s both an action and reaction to that process. I also believe it is important to share that.”
He adds: “I also make a living. Some of the things I have done have come out of the assignments I got,” Wolf says. And some work is pro bono.
“In 1992, I was assigned to photograph klezmer bands for Jewish Monthly,” he recalls. He realized this: “I loved the music! Then I started going to klezmer shows and photographing them. I had a body of work,” he says, of 50-plus bands; now, a book is in the works. “Klezmer, it’s fun to look at, it’s fun to listen to.”
Others emerge from life experiences, such as years of teaching camera skills to at-risk youths. Mentoring a traumatized teen who lost four relatives to homicide within 13 months, and contemplating what his own father who escaped from Nazi Germany endured, led him to develop “Shrines: Washington’s Other Monuments,” depicting homemade street memorials to homicide victims.
He can’t stop. “I’ve been working on it for 17 years,” he says in a recent interview at his Arlington home, which he shares with his longtime partner, Ruth Stromberg.
He has close to 800 total — making additions to dcshrines.blogspot.com, one of his blogs.
“I do this because I feel it’s the only thing I can do to help. It helps me internally and it helps other people too.” Over the years, his project has been featured nationally, as well as locally.
For more than 25 years, he’s photographed the annual Christmas Day of Service of the Edlavich DC Jewish Community Center, and loves the Jewish community’s commitment to help others.
Also ongoing: a grant-funded project as part of a team documenting Columbia Pike’s immigrant-fueled diversity. “People get along,” he says. “We have a community that values diversity … reacted to and coped with those changes.” A second book exploring the changing community is due out, and he’ll soon start work on an outgrowth of it, photographing the Ethiopian community.
Among other work: three more books in which he collaborated with writers — on visitors to the Vietnam Memorial (1986), about Jewish mothers (2000) and Jewish fathers (2004 — “because my father said ‘it’s my turn”); twice as many self-published on-demand books; and more. Familiar worldwide is a photo of his daughter, Emma, in a lion mask which was used in the opening of HBO’s “Homeland;” thousands viewed others in the Washington Post Magazine and national magazines.
He depicts the changing face of the Jewish community. While hairstyles change, families favor tradition — photos of bar mitzvah boys holding the Torah (guests still dance to the Village People’s 1978 hit “YMCA”).
Wolf took photos for Moment magazine’s Holocaust survivor couples project in the mid 2000s — a bittersweet reminder of how love blooms and endures.
“It used to be that my bread and butter was magazine and nonprofit work,” Wolf says. Editorial work has taken a hit, as a lot of print publications, Jewish included, have downsized or disappeared. Stock photos are rare. Conference, educational, nonprofit, grant and Capitol Hill work continue.
“I do less than I used to for Jewish groups” — but that’s largely because “I’m not pushing as hard at that client base as hard as I used to.”
He has no television, hasn’t for decades: “I just don’t like television culture.” (He uses a flip phone.)
“I’m on a computer all day anyway,” he says. In a home office, where he does the usual personal online things, but also works on his photos.
He documented the March of the Living, the journey for youths from the former concentration camps in Poland to Israel, in Jewish Monthly in 1990, as well as the 2020 Stand Up To Anti-Semitism Vigil in Takoma Park, another sign of persistent hatred, in Washington Jewish Week and on lloydwolfphoto.blogspot.com, another of his sites.
He thinks of what musician Frank London of the Klezmatics told him: Anybody can have a trumpet; it’s what you do with the trumpet.
“It’s what you choose to make of your work,” the Wolf says. “It means to relate to people, to explore, to communicate, to live a full life, to energize others … to open eyes.”
Andrea F. Siegel is a Washington-area writer.