Hutterites and Photographs
This photo of me with a wide-eyed, bracing-for-the-worst look on my young face never failed to make my father laugh. It was taken in a photo booth at the train station in Winnipeg. I was 7 years old and had accompanied my parents to see off Oltvetter grandfather who had requested and received permission from the colony minister to visit his adult daughters in Ontario. Oltvetter lived with us at the Fairholme Hutterite Colony.
Like the Amish, Hutterites as a rule are opposed to being photographed based on one of the ten commandments in the Bible, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.” In the era in which I grew up this commandment was taken fairly seriously by our communities and being photographed was something of a covert operation.
Things have changed quite dramatically in the sense that today almost every Hutterite has family and special occasion photos taken (some even professionally) for posterity though there is still considerable resistance by the older generation who adhere to traditional rules.
I was at a Hutterite colony recently when an elderly man shuffled into a room where I was visiting with the women. He saw my camera on my lap and remarked rather sternly, “Mary-Ann, I don’t want you to take my picture. I’m 87 years old. I’ve never had my picture taken and don’t you take one now!”
“Elias Vetter, I only take pictures of very charming people,” I teased him. “Well, I’m not charming, but I am good-lookin’,” he replied shaking his cane in my direction.
For many Hutterites photo booths like the one at the train station provided the privacy and discretion necessary to seize a tangible memory. Unlike Elias Vetter, I was very keen to have my picture taken that day. As Dad pushed a quarter into the slot he warned me, “Is vet eh brener gibn.” He was trying to tell me, it will “give a flash” but I interpreted his word for flash as a something of an electric shock which is easy to do in our Hutterisch language. It had the predictable effect.
Today's Hutterites are more concerned with being exploited than they fear becoming a graven image. That’s why the degree to which colony members avoid cameras varies from community to community. Each colony minister has discretion in these matters. The Wilson Siding Hutterite Colony in Alberta took their opposition to having their photo taken for a drivers licence all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (they lost by a 4-3 vote) while members of the Viking Colony posed for a milk ad in the newspaper to promote their dairy operation.
In general, Hutterites remain reluctant subjects when it comes to having their photos taken for public consumption. That’s why Kelly Hofer’s book, Hutterite, the things I saw growing up as a Hutterite teen, is so unique. At a young age Hofer had a knack for photography and between the ages of 11 and 19 he took candid images of everyday life at the Green Acres Hutterite colony in Manitoba where he grew up. His book contains over 200 pictures which showcase not only his gift as a photographer, but an exceptional pictorial of Hutterite life. www.kellyhofer.com/book
I’ll never forget how my father laughed when the photo booth machine spat out the deer-in-headlights snapshot of me. It fell short of the dazzling results I had hoped for. I tried for some redemption by asking, “Gilt Votar ich bin duch a bissel Lieb? “Dad, don’t you think I still look a little bit cute?” “Nah yoh”, “Of course,” he replied with an over-sized grin, as he patted my head.
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite Author and Professional Speaker. Her national best-selling books, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, and I Am Hutterite, are available at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite