Arianna Sharfman has enjoyed “playing with cameras” since she was in high school. But it wasn’t until the Orthodox native Californian attended Pittsburgh’s Tzohar Seminary for Chassidus and the Arts that her hobby began to grow into something more serious.
Sharfman, just 22 years old, can now boast a photo spread of actress Jamie Chung (“Once Upon a Time”) on Vanityfair.com among her other credits, which include shoots with the likes of celebrity fashion blogger Audrina Patridge and YouTube star Lindsey Hughes.
After photographing Chung for the actress’ fashion blog for about a year, Sharfman was asked to do a shoot for her sponsored by Tiffany’s. It was those photos that appeared on Vanityfair.com.
She grew up in the Beverly Hills area of Los Angeles, but Sharfman has Pittsburgh roots. Her mother, Jill Sharfman née Katz, was raised here, and her grandparents, Donna and Elliot Katz, still live here.
Coming back to her mother’s home turf and enrolling at Tzohar Seminary may have changed the course of Sharfman’s life.
Tzohar is a post-high school program for girls that enables them to integrate their creative talents with the teachings of Chasidic Judaism. It was founded five years ago, and is the first program of its kind in the United States. Tzohar students are exposed to many forms of art, including drama, music, filmmaking, writing and photography.
“When I got to seminary, I got my first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera — my first professional camera,” Sharfman recalled.
That’s when she began to refine her photography skills.
“I started doing photo shoots with my seminary friends as different models,” Sharfman said. “Then I did some portraits of seniors at Yeshiva High School.”
One of her photos got published “in a book about Shabbos,” she said.
It was at Tzohar that Sharfman was able to experiment and hone her craft.
“At Tzohar I got to explore the most,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about what a client would think, and I could use my creativity.”
Amy Guterson, founder and director of Tzohar, remembers Sharfman broadening her appreciation for a variety of art forms while at the seminary, including filmmaking and writing.
“The program grounded her as a person and as an artist,” Guterson said. “It added up all those parts. She really grew as a person here, studying chasidus and her art together.”
In Tzohar’s five-year history, so far Sharfman is the graduate who has received the most recognition in the secular world for her art, according to Guterson.
“Obviously, Vanity Fair is a huge splash,” she said, adding that another Tzohar grad has won some awards for independent filmmaking.
Following her year at Tzohar, Sharfman went back to L.A. and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, earning an associate of arts degree in visual communications. Still, she was unsure what particular career related to styling she would enter. Photography, she thought, might remain a hobby rather than a vocation.
“But I started getting jobs,” she said.
In addition to her shoots for professional fashion bloggers, Sharfman’s portfolio also includes portraits, newborns, couples and families. Her marketing is done mostly by word of mouth and Instagram. Simply Stylist, a networking group for those in the fashion and beauty industry, has connected Sharfman with several celebrity clients.
Now, what started as a pastime is paying the bills.
“I am making a living, thank God,” Sharfman said.
Sharfman is excited to see what her future holds as an artist.
“I want to keep doing fashion bloggers,” she said. “And I want to start doing more with modeling agencies. But you don’t know where this is going to take you, and I find that kind of fun.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.