Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Daniel Sroka, the founder and artist behind Modern Ketubah. Daniel's ketubahs (Jewish wedding contracts) are like nothing I've ever seen before, and it was so fun to hear his story and the inspiration behind his work.
Tell me about yourself. What is your background? Why did you start making ketubahs?
I'm a fine art photographer. My background is in graphic design, and I had been doing it for quite a long time--my last big job was as Creative Director of Yahoo in the late 90's. In the early 2000's, I was planning my own wedding. My wife and I were starting to talk about all the details of it, and she mentioned a ketubah.
We did our research, we looked around and frankly we didn’t like anything we saw. At that time there was a just a lot of traditional stuff. A lot of it spoke more to Jewish tradition and was not really accepting of an interfaith marriage or reflecting that. So since I’m a designer and artist I said, let me see what I can do. I ended up making one for us. That was the first ketubah I ever made.
What made you want to keep doing ketubahs?
Initially I thought: let’s make a few designs, play with a couple ideas, put them up online, run a few ads and see what happens. I was thinking I’d sell one or two, who knows. Next thing I knew, it just started growing and growing. It became a lot bigger than I ever thought it would, and here I am 12 years later.
There a few different reasons I keep making ketubahs. It's such a great feeling, making art that's going to be special to someone and that's going to represent this very important moment in their life. It's great to create something that's going to survive and last and be that symbolic piece in their lives.
Being in an interfaith marriage, it is also important to me to help support that and to create options for other interfaith couples. There weren't many options for interfaith couples then, so it was important to me to make sure that those options were there for others. That’s something that I feel strongly about, that interfaith and multicultural couples can find a ketubah that speaks to them and reflects their marriage.
I almost always I hear the same story from my customers. 'We were looking around and nothing felt right, and then we found yours and it’s exactly what we wanted.'
It’s a slightly different market these days, there are more options available. It’s great that an interfaith ketubah isn’t such a novel thing any more.
Your style is very distinct. What prompted your interest in abstract nature photography?
I always say my subjects are pieces of nature that you can hold in your hand.
When you see nature in photography it's usually done representationally--here's a mountain, here's a tree, here's a bird...I never really respond to that. It's nice but it doesn't really speak to me emotionally. I discovered this process by trying to approach nature in a more simple and direct way. I started working with flowers and leaves, trying to see beyond what it simply looked like, and begin to explore the real conceptual and emotional meaning of each leaf. I thought this would be a short term project, but I've been doing it since 2000, and the more I do it, the more I see that there is to express.
Once I was in Yosemite, and it's as beautiful as it is in the pictures. I appreciated that, but as we were looking at the valley spreading below, I was still picking up leaves and acorns and exploring those more. I’m drawn to that. The views and mountains are beautiful, but they are distant from us as people, whereas a leaf and a seashell are like relating to nature as individuals. That’s what I explore with the art, trying to explore that relationship. What does it mean to be an individual in the world?
What advice would you give to couples looking for the perfect ketubah?
A ketubah is your own--you get to decide what you want it to be. If you want to follow traditions that’s your decision. Find the art and find the text that represents your wedding to you, and go with that.
And then go find the artist! Work with them directly. There are so many of us out there now, that you can go directly to the artist and find the art that works the best for you. Find something that speaks to you.