Rosh Hashanah Dinner

Those who are Jewish have recently celebrated the holiday, Rosh Hashanah. For those who may not know, it’s a Jewish holiday that celebrates the beginning of a new year similar to New Years, but instead of watching the ball drop there is a big meal to wish everyone a sweet and healthy new year. This holiday couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Everyone sits around a table breaking bread, dipping apples and hallah in honey, sharing stories, laughing, and making memories to last a lifetime. Even though it’s not being celebrated with the usual extended family members due to the pandemic, it reminds us to think positively and appreciate everything we do have.

Pictures say a lot without any needing any text. As you will see, this holiday has a lot of ingredients in order to make the new year as sweet as can be.

The holiday has arrived
So many ingredients for one meal
Creating the matzo balls
The table has been set
Course one of three
Matzo ball soup bringing us together
Breaking of the bread
Have a sweet and healthy new year
The final course is ready

Pictures can tell a story not only without text, but without people and using objects, food, and anything else we see or use everyday. Showing people in the photo can automatically show the viewer the emotion they should be feeling, but instead the emotion can be shown through the objects and the shapes that can be seen. After all, the holiday is all about appreciating the small things and being together.


After hearing about this project, it was difficult for me to figure out what I can capture that will be interesting or have enough to create a story from it. However, even before that I had to truly understand what a photo essay was. Eman Shurbaji describes a photo essay in her article, “Photo Narratives“, by saying, “in a photo essay, both the narrative and pictures drive the story; the pictures support what’s in the text, but a person can understand the topic without having to read text or captions.” That’s when the holiday rolled around and my idea came to the forefront. I can capture my family coming together having a great time to celebrate the holiday in the majority of the pictures, but I wanted to challenge myself by capturing the dinner in unique way by not including any people if possible. 

I used shapes in order to not only evoke certain emotions, but to create that feeling of family and togetherness during this time. Since I was not including any people my goal was to have a lot of circles throughout the pictures. It was difficult at times because even though I could somewhat control the shapes, there were a lot of the colors I couldn’t control, so I had to find interesting ways around it and use them. Just like colors have meanings so do shapes. Circles can mean wholeness, togetherness, and how we are all connected in some way. I showed this through the dishes that were used for the dinner, the hallah in the middle of table, and even having everyone around the table in a circle. 

The Gestalt principles of symmetry and simplicities are used for the majority of the pictures I captured as well. Laura Busche describes in her article, “Simplicity, symmetry and more: Gestalt theory and the design principles it gave birth to“, that simplicity is “the use of uncomplicated shapes and objects to produce striking design effects.” This came through with the objects I used being the dishes, food, and even the calendar. Today’s society has a very short attention span so I wanted to make sure that they could see a unique image and understand what is going on in a short amount of time. Also, because of my unique take on the photo essay I incorporated simplicity so that they can still be understood by the viewers and evoke the same emotions if there were people in the photos. Françoise Mouly states in her Ted Talk, “The Stories Behind The New Yorker’s Iconic Covers” that “sometimes some of the images that say the most do it with the most spare means.” In this case some of the images barely have anything in them but they say a lot more whether it’s making the holiday food or preparing the table to make new memories. Even though it incorporates simplicity and people can understand right away what is going on, there is more to be said and going on in the photo. 

I also used symmetry in a different way in how on either side of the table everything matched and was symmetrical. For example, the pictures showing the table set and then with the soup in the dishes filled, I really tried to have symmetry as well as showing the circles. For many people this is interesting to see how I managed to get the entire table setting to be symmetrical from the placement of the dishes, glasses, and even food as well as adding to the overall story in that being a holiday dinner and as family we are all connected and the same yet different in many ways. 

The principle of sensory was even used to create that family togetherness feeling.  Without having people in the images I had to create that feeling in a different way. Jade Lien states, “Your audience will be more ready to engage and take action when you invite them into your reality with powerful, emotional visual storytelling.” So by showing the dinner table in a birds eye view and showing the meal preparation and being served and cut, it makes people emotional and stop at the images because of how different they are to everything else in the world today. They are emotional in that when they see the those images, memories of holiday dinners come back and people are reminded of fun, happy, and maybe emotional stories that happened whether they are Jewish or not.

Nicole Dahmen even states in the article, “How to Do Better Visual Journalism for Solutions Stories,” that “The idea is to make images that matter to the specific story, rather than seeking visuals afterward that ‘fit’.” This was a challenge I had to overcome while creating the visual aspect of the story. I had to stop myself from finding visuals just to make it fit into the stories instead of helping to strengthen the story with my visual. As soon as I was able to do that I was able to create interesting and different images because I wasn’t in my head trying to make the visuals fit with each other once the story was decided. 

Andrew Losowsky states in “Visual Storytelling: Density Design” that “the visual storyteller is fully responsible for the visualization, not for the data and its accuracy,” (Losowsky, 10)  Even though he is mostly talking about infographics, I still took that mentality that it doesn’t have to be perfect and I’m not responsible for certain things out of my control like some of the colors, but I still have to make sure the visual helps to tell the story.  If one picture doesn’t help the story then the whole piece doesn’t work. The author of the article, ”Information Visualization – A Brief Introduction”, also talks about information visualization, with it being “the art of representing data in a way that it is easy to understand and to manipulate, can help us make sense of information and thus make it useful in our lives”.  In this case, those that can relate to the images will be able to understand it quickly and easily and even relate to it in some way. 

Overall, the Rosh Hashanah dinner was told in a unique way. I was able to incorporate different elements, techniques, and principles that made the story of the family holiday dinner different and captivating without using people.


Busche, Laura. “Simplicity, Symmetry and More: Gestalt Theory and the Design Principles It Gave Birth To.” Design Elements and Principles, (2)

Dahmen, Nicole. “How to Do Better Visual Journalism for Solutions Stories.” MediaShift, 22 Nov. 2017,  (4)

“Density Design.” Visual Storytelling, by Andrew Losowsky, pp. 10–17. (3)

“Information Visualization – A Brief Introduction.” The Interaction Design Foundation, July 2020, (3)

Lien, Jade. “The Four Principles of Visual Storytelling.” Action Graphics, 21 Nov. 2019, (1)

Shurbaji, Eman. “Photo Narratives.” Medium, Ideas: Journalism + Tech, 17 Dec. 2014, (4)

Ted Talk. “The Stories Behind The New Yorker’s Iconic Covers | Françoise Mouly.” YouTube, 17 Aug. 2017, (4)

2 thoughts on “Rosh Hashanah Dinner

  1. Your family makes a beautiful meal! I’m impressed with your ability to make the neutral color palate of the meal look so appealing. Food photography is always hard, and most photographers struggle even more without contrasting, bright colors. Very nice job making bread and soup look so lovely in photos!
    You employed the Gestalt principles of symmetry and similarity to great effect. I like the circle motif, and it is well executed throughout. Connecting that visual theme to the spirit of the holiday really brings the piece together. The reminder to appreciate the simple things, in spirit and in these photos, is poignant. It certainly contrasts with the spirit and imagery of modern commercialized Christmas which is nothing but more more more! Amidst this pandemic, we all need that reminder to appreciate the little things even more. The absence of people adds to the poignancy. As you say, the photos of a holiday meal evoke happy memories. This year, though, those memories are tinged with some sadness and isolation. These photos capture that dissonance–holiday joy alongside the ghost of family and the isolation around what should be a full table.
    The reminder to appreciate the simple things, and to trust the never-ending circle of life, is needed now more than ever. Thank you for sharing your special holiday experience!


  2. Hi Michaela! This was a very fun take on this photo essay assignment. I appreciate that you gave us the insight on what goes on during this Jewish holiday, considering I do not celebrate it myself, so I found it neat that you decided to photograph the themes and messages that correlate with the holiday. Looking back towards color and emotion, I understand why you chose to take the pictures the way you did, and I feel like you did a pretty good job with them. They all have an orange-brown vibe that connects with confidence, loyalty and stability, which are three important characteristcs of a happy and loving family. Feel free to disagree with me, but I personally feel that adding a little bit of writing between each photo could have amplified your story a bit more. While, yes, the photos themselves are powerful enough to tell a story, as the viewer, I felt like I did not know how long to spend at each photo and how significant each photo was to their surrounding photos, something that I think could have been clarified in wirting. That being said, your captions were very helpful in explaining this holiday and it helped me gain a better understanding and appreciation for the story you chose to tell.


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