Visual arts | Follow The Light: The Photography of Kitra Cahana

A young woman covered in mud gazes down reflectively, a haze of smoke emanating from the cigarette poised delicately in her hand. Beneath, a bearded man, his head a mop of blond curls, lies back and looks mysteriously off into the distance. In the same frame, another woman clasping an albino rat laughs as someone leans in towards her cheek. Set against a green, grassy landscape, myriad figures play instruments and engage in voiceless dialogue. A kaleidoscopic swirl of faces and activities emerge in this complex photograph, part of a series titled Nomadia – American Nomads by the rising artist, Kitra Cahana. The young photographer traces an intricate portrait of some of today’s subcultures with her images of communities from all over the world.

Click on the videos below to hear Cahana talk about the nomadic subculture she has been documenting for the past few years.

Born in the United States, Kitra Cahana spent much of her childhood moving from place to place with her family.  She spent part of her childhood in Montreal where her family now lives.  As a young adolescent, she had already lived in dozens of different countries: “Right from the start I had a very nomadic upbringing…. always moving and seeking adventures,” she affirmed. Cahana comes from a family brimming with creative talents and achievements.  Her grandmother is the world-renowned artist Alice Lok Cahana, whose powerful abstract paintings express painful memories of Auschwitz and the Holocaust (one of these works, No Names (1991), currently hangs in the Vatican Museum).

This next image is a picture of Cahana’s grandmother meeting the Pope in 2006 where they discussed her art and her experience as a 15 year-old girl in Auschwitz.


Kitra’s father, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana, is a poet and orator who recently suffered a stroke that left him quadriplegic, but who still miraculously manages to give sermons by blinking out letters and words. Cahana is working on a series in collaboration with her father.  Below is an image from the series.


Kitra Cahana’s artistic career quickly took off when, at the age of 17, she documented the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and one of her photos appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Shooting in this emotionally charged environment with experienced photographers became a way for her to greatly hone her craft.

Click on this video for advice on getting a good picture and for images from Gaza in 2005.

The young artist has created many series on communities from across the globe, weaving narratives that are each as unique as they are accessible. From vignettes of religious Jewish culture in Uman to photos of indigenous Venezuelan rituals, Cahana works in a colorful array of themes and settings. When asked how she chooses her projects, Cahana thoughtfully replies: “My process varies from story to story; it really depends on whether the work is self-initiated or assigned. Regardless, you always have to make each story your own.”  The image below is of an indigenous ritual in Curacao, Venezuela.

Watch this next video clip where Cahana talks about her pilgrimage to Uman in the Ukraine.

One of Cahana’s more recent series, Nomadia – American Nomads, depicts the world of traveling youths in the United States. Nomadic existence coupled with a sense of rootlessness have become an overarching paradigm of the 20th and 21st centuries. Cahana certainly had a specific idea in mind when she began her journey with this mostly underground community. “When I’m traveling nomadically with that community, I’m always framing my travels through a philosophical discussion around Utopianism and the pursuit of the American dream,” she says.

Below is an image from a series on the teen brain.

Kitra Cahana’s recent photos on adolescent culture are featured in National Geographic Magazine. She is currently completing her M.A. thesis on traveling culture at Freie Universitat in Berlin. Cahana is the recipient of an Infinity Award from The International Center of Photography and a 2013 Fellow at TED.

To learn more about Kitra Cahana and to view her portfolio, please visit her website:


Maya Hajdu  is a painter, writer, and avid comic book collector currently residing in Tel Aviv.

The videos for this article were filmed and edited by Jean-Michel Pollak