Four years ago, my grandmother passed away at the age of 91. She was a humble, ascetic woman. Her home was a clean home, clear of bold colours and ornaments. It was a minimalistic home, and some may say almost a monastic one. But behind this somewhat ‘grey’ figure stood a strong and idealistic woman who, until two months before her passing, completely rejected any help that was offered to her. On her bedside table laid a solid black volume of the Bible, and hiding behind the closed closet doors was a world of books. That’s where I found the book Woman of the Bible (1964). It was worn-out, colorless and lacked illustrations, but as soon as I started reading it, I knew it would be the subject of my next project about women placed in the ‘background’ of stories, who seem to be small and unglamorous, but, like my grandmother, were dominant, strong and intriguing. This project is dedicated to her.

Eve © Michal Baratz Koren

I was born in Israel in 1978, only 30 years after it was pronounced a state. It was a time filled with wars and fighting, and occupation with fantasy and spirituality was perceived as a privilege. From the art books my parents possessed in their home, I was exposed to new worlds, rich in colors and compositions that were ever so different from my surrounding and my everyday life. Throughout my travels around the world, I was exposed to different cultures: monotheistic and pagan, religious and non-religious. All of these captured my imagination and took it to faraway places. Renaissance art was where I drew my inspiration for this “Woman of the Bible” project, although not in a religious way, but in a personal and universal way. To be precise: it’s inspired by being a non-religious Israeli woman, in Israel.

My work on this project, starting with research and up to the finish-line, lasted for three years. Many of my family members and close friends took part as actors and extras, including my husband Yaron and our dog, Sacha. Photography locations were picked after everlasting and exhausting site searches all around the country. Some of the costumes and props were taken from my grandmother Miriam’s ‘private collection’, and some were designed especially for the project.

Queen of Sheba © Michal Baratz Koren

During all the hard work, I became a mother, and although the work pace slowed down following my having a child, it felt as if there was an even bigger need for me to pursue and push the project forward in order to finish and fulfil it. For my project, I chose nine women to bring forward the discussion surrounding women dealing with dilemmas, women asking questions, and women doing things. All the women I chose have something in common, and furthermore, I was touched by each and every one of them. Even though they were all chosen from the Bible, they are, in my opinion, timeless figures. The costumes, the background and the characters could be attached to any time or place, and so could their struggles, questions, concerns and their ways of coping with reality.

—Michal Baratz Koren

Editor’s Note: Michal Baratz Koren was a finalist in this year’s LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards. Be sure to check out the other amazing images submitted by our winners and finalists here.