As secular and religious intolerance appears to be on the rise, and sectarian violence continues to displace, injure or kill thousands, if not millions, it is refreshing and enlightening to find religious people who have found a way to peacefully coexist with others, even though their beliefs and practices are radically different from those with whom they interact.
This project documents one such people — an Old Order Amish community located in Western Pennsylvania. Though the Amish are sometimes described as the Plain People, my visits to this community revealed that to be a gross oversimplification, as their culture is an amalgam of the old and the new, the simple and complex, the drab and colorful. The Old Order Amish are characterized by worship in private homes rather than in churches; their adherence to traditional farming methods; and an aversion to the use of electricity and automobiles. The Old Order Amish also do not want to be photographed, as posing for photos, or even permitting them to be taken, is inconsistent with their core belief in humility. There is a certain amount of leeway, however, especially when it comes to photographing “the little ones,” which made this project possible.
A study in contrasts, the elder’s furniture shop is a good example of how they have merged their beliefs with their needs. Lit only by natural light, the shop seemed like a soothing oasis — that is until the shop owner showed me how everything worked by firing up the diesel engine that powered all the equipment. Although the Old Order Amish eschew wired electricity, believing that it improperly connects them to the outside world, this does not stop them from using certain types of engines, or using car batteries charged from these engines. They also do not own or routinely use telephones, but there are a few conveniently place telephone “booths” that can be used in an emergency. Their boats are not powered, but they use manufactured fishing gear, including the artificial worm caught in mid-flight. Tennis balls are placed at the bottom of desk chairs to protect the schoolhouse floor. The funeral was a horse and buggy affair, but the “English” were still needed to use gasoline-powered vehicles to drive in those living afar. Capturing this ambiguity became of primary importance to me as the project developed.
As modern technology continues to consume society, it remains to be seen whether this Old Order Amish community will be able to maintain the balance it has found — a balance that allows its members to be secure in their beliefs yet able to interact with outsiders without fear of unwanted infection. I intend to continue my visits to document their journey in a respectful way.
The above photograph, and others from The Old Order gallery, will be part of a group exhibit at the Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts in July 2014.