When an email, from The Los Angeles Times, comes through with a one word subject line reading, ‘AMISH’, you already understand it to be one of your more difficult assignments – but also a chance of a lifetime.
With no gas or electric powered machines to crack the air, a quiet beauty surrounds the Westcliffe, Colorado Amish community. All one can hear is the sound of workhorses.
Enos Yoder and I ride, by wagon, over the rutty fields that patch together his 400 acres of land at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The valley floor is lush and green, saturated by recent heavy spring rains.
As Yoder recounts the first time he laid eyes on the valley floor my shutter clicks. Even over the sounds from the jostling wagon and horses’ noisy bridles that ‘click’ is loud and obtrusive.
I’ve photographed shy people and numerous people that did not like their photograph taken but they understood it to be apart of the story.
I’ve never photographed a culture that did not want their picture taken because their religion instructed them not to do so.
I still have images etched into my mind that were let pass because I did not want to jeopardize the limited time and access already granted by Yoder and his friend, Chester Hostetler, 54, a carpenter and father of 10.
For example, I did not photograph Yoder’s daughter sweeping out the family stables in respect of the youngster’s privacy and her father’s.
Though the words, ‘Do not photograph my children,’ were never spoken some things are implied through body language and mutually respect.
It’s difficult to let moments slip past but in certain situations, such as photographing in an Amish community; you must recognize and respect the wishes of those being photographed.
The evening before the assignment I crammed and studied up on the Amish and kept discovering different reasons why the community did not want to have their photograph taken. No clear reason was ever found.
Finally, as I drank my morning coffee the conclusion was reached that it did not really matter why the Amish community didn’t want their photograph taken. What mattered was they didn’t want their photograph taken, period.
With that conclusion I looked upon this assignment with a fresh understanding that Yoder did not have to let me into his very personal life and that granting of access was not to be taken advantage of.
Enos Yoder and Chester Hostetler are soft spoken and polite men. They would have probably never told me to leave their property should I have photographed something out of bounds or wondered too far from their comfort zones – such as photographing their younger children or family. I was never invited into their homes nor did I expect that.
Being a professional photographer is not just about taking compelling photographs but also realizing when your welcome has been exhausted and when to step away. It is a very fine line that must be delicately walked.
I feel that respecting the privacy of these two men fostered a relationship that will be easier to develop over the course of my career and hopefully left them thinking that not every photographer wants too much of their personal lives.
Chester Hostetler, 54, a carpenter and father of 10, works to repair a barbwire fence May 26. Hostetler leases the large pasture to grow hay which is fed to his livestock and sold to other Westcliffe community members.
Enos Yoder, an Amish hay farmer and horse trainer from Iowa loads a non-Amish community member’s truck with hay.
Enos Yoder, an Amish hay farmer and horse trainer from Iowa, works to load a community member’s pickup truck while speaking on his cell phone regarding another business transaction. Cell phones are considered a necessity for safety and business due to the space and acreage that separates each family. The Amish community voted to allow both cell phones and land lines.The Amish population in Colorado went from zero in 2002 to more than 400 in 2008 with more arriving each month.