Getting to know: Eli Kurs-Lasky
Eli Kurs-Lasky. Photo courtesy of Eli Kurs-Lasky
Eli Kurs-Lasky. Photo courtesy of Eli Kurs-Lasky
Getting to KnowEli Kurs-Lasky

Getting to know: Eli Kurs-Lasky

Photographer’s work is a salute to Pittsburgh, but behind the images is a quest for expression and promotion of the mundane

Eli Kurs-Lasky sees beauty in garbage, puddles and Pittsburgh street scenes. His gift is helping others see the splendor as well.

The Squirrel Hill resident is a self-taught photographer whose Instagram account, “stillcityphotography,” is a salute to Pittsburgh. His photos often depict familiar buildings in Oakland, recognizable red buses and foliage from Schenley Park. Each image is paired with a two—word description: A collection of plastic folding chairs is captioned “performance anxiety.” A rusted love lock affixed to a bridge is titled “old promises.”

Kurs-Lasky told the Chronicle there’s an irony in eschewing verbosity.

Whereas a picture can spark conversation, the caption doesn’t allow for lengthy expression. As a result, certain topics, like being Jewish, are difficult to convey, he explained.

Performance Anxiety. Photo by Eli Kurs-Lasky

Kurs-Lasky, 30, grew up in Squirrel Hill. He was bar mitzvahed at Tree of Life and later attended Temple Sinai.

Judaism is central to his identity, he said, but as his public profile has grown — his work has appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper, The Incline and Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle — he’s encountering new dilemmas.

“I hate to say it, I feel like I'm navigating how open to be about being Jewish. And the only reason I say that is just because, unfortunately, the way that our society is right now, and the rise of antisemitism, it is just very scary,” he said.

Kurs-Lasky has grappled with this angst in essays for Public Source.

He told the Chronicle it’s harder to convey the unease on Instagram, however.

Each year, since Oct. 27, 2018, the Squirrel Hill resident has posted something related to the horrific event. Still, there’s a struggle, he said: “In a way, I'm not really sure how to get my Judaism across in my photos.”

Nature’s Mirror. Photo by Eli Kurs-Lasky

Kurs-Lasky values expression. After attending Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied English writing and sociology.

Focusing on poetry helped him prioritize the mundane, he said. “I like to take pictures of things that people would walk by, and not even notice, and make them question why they assume something very normal isn't beautiful or isn't noteworthy.”

Whether via words or images, generating new perceptions is critical, he continued, as considerable good could come from society pausing and taking time to correct misconceptions.

Kurs-Lasky addressed a similar topic on Feb. 17, when he delivered a Friday evening Dvar Torah at Temple Sinai.

As part of a service celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), he spoke about receiving an autism diagnosis later in life.

Pittsburgh Strong. Photo by Eli Kurs-Lasky

He told the Chronicle that although he’s written about being diagnosed in his 20s, last month was his first time articulating it in a public setting.

What made the Temple Sinai experience so frightening, he said, was not only watching people react but removing a veil that other expressive means afford: “It feels scary to publicly admit some of my limitations. Because even though I've written about something, there's kind of a way that it still feels a little somewhat anonymous. But speaking it, it’s obvious that I’m the one who’s saying it.”

Kurs-Lasky said the Dvar Torah “went well,” but he’s eager to continue expressing himself in other ways.

With the days getting longer, and the weather growing warmer, there are increased opportunities to find unexpected scenes. For the Squirrel Hill resident, who regularly walks with a Canon DSLR in hand, those chance encounters are ripe for capture and development.

“It’s how I understand and interact with the things around me,” he said. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

read more: