Colorado’s Amish – For The Los Angeles Times

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.

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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.

Cheers,

Nathan W. Armes
Denver Photographer & Photojournalist
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22 Comments

  1. trent
    June 1, 2010

    Great photos and lucky you. Enos turned me down. The scene in his yard is burned into my mind, about twenty young Amish playing volleyball. It was amazing.

  2. Nathan W. Armes
    June 1, 2010

    Trent – Enos is a great man. I didn’t want to push my luck and let a few images pass. I’m OK with that. Where did you met Mr. Yoder?

  3. Kris Litman-Koon
    June 2, 2010

    Great photos, Nathan. They are beautiful and tell a story by themselves.

  4. Nathan W. Armes
    June 2, 2010

    Kris – thanks man!

  5. Marc
    June 2, 2010

    Nice job…Beautiful country out there. You say you scouted a few camping sites out there? Let me know we’re always looking for some new spots.

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  7. chris
    October 23, 2010

    Beautiful pictures. I was pretty surprized to see these photo’s up. I know both families, you had good timing for the article. In August a photographer upset many families when they took unapproved photos of a child and printed them in Monte Vista.

  8. Morgan
    December 23, 2010

    We had the pleasure of meeting Enos this week. It’s like a breath of fresh air to meet someone like him as he is the most kindest, honest, and trusting person you would ever hope to meet. I have never met such a down to earth and genuine person such as him. I feel that my life has been greatly enriched and enlightened by making his acquaintance. Thanks for the article!

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  10. Robin L Davies
    February 13, 2011

    Great article and beautiful photos!!!

  11. lester
    March 9, 2011

    The reason the amish don’t take photos is because in the bible it says not to worship idols or false images. In there way of thinking a picture is a false image. For excample say they have a son they are very proud of and they hang up a picture of him on the wall. Thru the day they might walk by it and stand there and look at it for a while, it might get to the point where you put it by your bedside so you could look at every night before you go to bed. They think it could get to the point where they’re worshipping the photo. Thats what i was taught, hope this helps. PS. Chester is my dad, I left the amish about 4 years ago :)

  12. Nathan W. Armes
    March 10, 2011

    Lester – Thank you for the reply and the explanation. I did not spend too much time with your father but he was gracious enough to grant my request for me to photograph him – though I’m sure he was uncomfortable with the situation. I tried to work quickly and get out of his way as soon as possible.

    Now that you left the Amish community, are you still in Colorado?

    Cheers – Nathan

  13. lester
    March 10, 2011

    No, I’m a truck driver now based out of southern Iowa where i grew up.

  14. Nathan W. Armes
    March 10, 2011

    Thanks – well, be safe out there!

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  17. Tanya
    June 18, 2011

    I am interested in learning more about the Amish in COlorado. (I am not media). I’ve reseached the Amish culture extensively and would like to learn more about thier values, etc. I am planning a trip to the Westcliffe area later this month. Do any Amish in the area open thier homes or run a Bed and Breakfast? I have found many in the PA area, but none west.
    Thank you!

  18. Nathan W. Armes
    November 14, 2011

    I’m not sure about B&B’s – they do run local businesses in the area. – Have a fun trip!

  19. Mary
    September 26, 2012

    Enos and Norma delivered a table to us in Colorado when they were coming here as part of the preparations for the new settlement. They invited us to Westcliffe. It was a wonderful and surreal experience. I treasure the memory of their lovely home and I hope to visit againn

  20. Amy
    August 14, 2013

    From all I’ve ever found, usually the explanation for not wanting pictures taken is because it is seen as a sign of vanity, and that is seen as a sin.

  21. Pam
    May 14, 2014

    My father was raised Old Order Amish in Arthur Illinois.
    The verse……thou shalt not create graven images is the explanation I was given

  22. Christine
    May 14, 2014

    Thank you for being so respectful of them :-)

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