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Thursday, 16 June 2016


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You're in luck! I am working on a roof-mounted camera system that is wired to your brain (the Pro model will be wireless). It can recognize when the pleasure centers of your brain light up upon noticing a beautiful picture while driving, and automatically snap a picture. Only drawback is I can only get it to work in Program mode right now...

That is funny.

The scenery is like Anne Of Green Gables.

If only you had a phone with you...

"[It] would have made a wonderful picture."
Probably not, unless you gave it some context - but giving context to a photo is like explaining a joke: it spoils all the fun.
On the other hand, this quotation seems to imply everything we see and find interesting is worth photographing. It isn't. It may be so for the people who waste their lives showing everything they do on Facebook and Instagram, but not for people who photograph with a purpose. We should understand that sometimes seeing is enough. We are not obliged to document everything we see, even it technology allows us to do so.

The description was so perfect that I'm glad you missed the picture. I can see it clearly.

I had that happen this very morning. There is a spot on my daily drive where every day I swear I am going to stop each morning and take a picture...the scene varies daily with the light of the season. This morning the light was clear and the pond was flat and shiny with a single duck carving a calm curving wake. Just gorgeous.

My wife's family is Mennonite. My father-in-law drives a BMW and rolls his eyes at the horse and buggy crowd.

I find this post interesting in light of some of the negative coverage of Steve McCurry. One of the knocks against him is that he is "exploitive" of the people of other's cultures.

And yet, it's so tempting to photograph quaintness. Some handle the situation with respect. I'm thinking of William Albert Allard's work with the Mennonites. Bill's work with cowboys also comes to mind, as does Sam Abell's.

Do we gawk and point our cameras at the quaint with a sense of superiority or amusement, catching the low hanging fruit of otherness? Do we learn enough of the people, mostly by getting to know some personally, to respectfully document them?

Well, if it's any consolation, your posted image of the farmhouse could be used to teach composition. Very nice.

"... but it would have made a wonderful picture. I can still see it in my mind's eye."

That's precisely what I love about photography. As Dorothea Lange (supposedly) said, "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." I love the feedback loop - how the more I photograph, the more I find visually interesting things around me.

That's a beautiful photo. Though I think you photoshopped the clouds in ;) Here are a couple of my own farm photos, one taken near Lancaster, PA and the other closer to Hershey (I don't believe either of them is Amish owned, though).



As for the honeymoon, it doesn't have to end. My wife and I have been in our current home in a quiet town in CT for 20 years now and still marvel at the wildlife and the scenery. I love coming home after a vacation. We can spend a week away from work and chores, enjoying a new place, then drive 5 or 6 or more hours through cities, but as soon as we're within half an hour of home, traffic drops off, restaurants and gas stations disappear, we see forests and farms and it feels good.

In the mid-70s and early 80s I lived for periods in Amish (or Mennonite) country in both Pennsylvania and Ohio, and I was surprised to discover how sociable the Amish (or Mennonite) folks were -- at least some of them. I had been under the impression that the Amish weren't keen to meet outsiders, but I had many friendly chats with Amish men.

On the other hand, from what I remember, some Amish won't allow you to take a photo (a "graven image") of them, but I think the attitudes vary. I know that most of the Amish communities do not allow posed portraits.

When I lived in the area the scariest thing I saw was a Mennonite girl in her longest dress using a weed wacker... seemed like an accident waiting to happen.

Once the dog days of Summer hit you'll see that young Mennonite boys like their liquor and drag racing their pickup trucks.

Mike, the one that gets away is always big and beautiful.

We lived in Lancaster County Pennsylvania for about 11 years. Living there was a pleasant experience. Our house backed up to a farm run by a young Amish couple and their children. Amish houses have no electricity and no running water. They say this a sacrifice they choose to make. For the record, Amish in particular do not like to have their picture taken. They consider it offensive. Tourists that visited Lancaster County did not understand this because they felt the Amish were some kind of a prop of times gone by. The Amish use horse drawn buggies but the Mennonites can drive cars if they choose. One sect of the Mennonites are called "black bumper" Mennonites because their cars cannot have any shiny metal.

See, if you were illegally talking on your cel phone and, the BEST camera, the one you had with you, would have been ready for the shot.

Although I couldn't live with those restrictions, I can't fault anyone for recreating their own little bit of heaven if they want to.

It seems their way of doing it has many positive outcomes for the land and local communities than some more modern interpretations.

I love the sky in your photograph, the subtle gradations of gray.

I have a wonderful picture (but only in my head) "taken" in the Shenandoah Valley of a Mennonite woman in long dress and bonnet pushing a small wagon along a farm lane with two very young girls, also in bonnets, seated inside. The exposure was 2 seconds at 60MPH.

Thanks for that, Mike. Yes, that would have made a lovely picture. But your illustrating photo does as well. Do those farms always have some charming cloud formation overhead?

I can imagine the image of the girl on the bicycle. That's one I would have loved to snap, as well. I also love the photo with this post. One of yours, I take it? The clouds are perfect. I'm heading to Iowa soon and look forward to scenes similar to this.

Love the picture Mike. It reminds me of close to home, West Flanders in Belgium: minimalist, flat but beautiful farm land.

My guess is the Mennonites may get their bicycles from the same place that everyone in Copenhagen and Amsterdam gets theirs from. Maybe Raleigh makes a specific Mennonite/Danish/Dutch model, just as Checker did for cabs for many years.

A couple of years ago I was on a train in Holland - I think it was from Amsterdam to Utrecht - and there was a young Moslem woman sitting opposite me in full headscarf. Not a bit of hair showing, just the skin of her face. Very traditional. She was talking on a cellphone with a custom cover in fabric that matched her headscarf.

I had a camera with me, but didn't take the shot. Not the kind of thing I photograph.

"Made me laugh. I just saw her in for a few seconds as I passed by, but it would have made a wonderful picture. I can still see it in my mind's eye"

No problem there, Mike.

As Steve McCurry has proven, if you can imagine it, you can photograph it!

I'm familiar with the Amana Colonies, which were close to my home town. They were Pietists, from Germany, and are often associated with other "plain people." One thing I always liked about them is that they had no permanent clergy -- their clergy served short terms, I've been told, and were chosen by the community based on their good-heartedness. Not a bad idea, IMHO.

I saw, and missed, a photo on Friday. Driving back from a job a few miles from home, I saw a middle aged Indian woman waiting at a bus stop. It was a hot day, and she was sitting, in a dignified manner, cross legged on the ground. This is not something you see in England, though perhaps it happens in India.

I had no camera; It's enough to carry all the tools I need without looking after a camera as well. I would have stopped and asked to take her photo. Then again, I grabbed the camera bag as I went out the door this evening. Did I see anything I wanted to photograph? Of course not!

With the right costuming, props and a model, it be staged to re-capture the lost moment....

Many of us sympathize re "the one that got away."
But, as I used to tell my Adult Ed photo students:
"That's what poetry is for."

I'm always self-conscience in situations such as you described with the young girl and the sunglasses. I feel that taking the picture somehow communicates to the subject that this city guy thinks the "lifestyle" is quaint, charming, something to be photographed as odd, not like me, old-fashioned. Other than familiarity over time, how do you overcome that feeling?

Mike, I see in the photo that like Tina and me on our recent visit, you're finding that the sky (lake effect clouds?) tends to become the star of the picture, with the beautiful farms somehow playing a supporting role. The tendency is to find skyscapes with some land at the bottom. But the land and sky there is just gorgeous and we can't wait to get out and work more with it. Recognize the farm, too.

My mother was from a Mennonite family. She and some siblings left to join the more modern world so I wasn't raised as a Mennonite.. The Mennonites north of Toronto did drive cars but removed most of the chrome trim. Their farming methods were traditional and it appears to be very similar to the farms in your area. The essential practice is permaculture with crop rotation and natural fertilization. Hope you can get to know them and they welcome you and your camera.


A few quick thoughts...
One of the major differences between the Amish and Mennonites is education. The Amish only go to schools run by their sects and only through the 8th grade. Mennonites frequently attend local schools and the Faith operate five universities that are open to all. We have one Mennonite friend who is an MD and many with advanced degrees.

The largest concentration of the Anabaptists is in Wayne and Holmes Counties in Ohio, my wife's home area. There is a newspaper called "The Budget" that is distributed to Amish and Mennonites worldwide. Each Community contributes brief letters that keep everyone connected. Many of these are quite hilarious, with injury reports caused by drag racing buggies, something that is a bit logical considering the horses are harness and trotter nags that didn't make it at the track. There is usually a general store/hardware store that carries "The Budget" where Amish are concentrated. Try and pick up a copy. A catalog well worth having is from Lehman's Hardware. They supply the Amish, Adventurers, and Expeditions with everything non-electric that you could imagine (www.Lehmans.com). Send for the Catalog if your new home is in an area with frequent power outages or you're looking for a bar of Grandma's Lye Soap. Need a composting toilet? Once you receive the catalog you may be days away from your Blog. Lehman's carries a number of books about the Amish/Mennonite's including, "The Best of the Budget." I'm sure they would also send you a copy of the paper if requested. Lehman's are Mennonites.

I've found Horse and Buggy Mennonites much more accepting of photographers since they are permitted to have photos, unlike the Amish. A good Mennonite friend, Spencer Cunningham, is Professor of Photography at Findlay University.

The gallery space you have written about might be a great project to discuss with some Amish carpenters. Their work is outstanding and affordable compared to general contractors.

"Byrne Dairy milk is mighty fine
Chock plumb full of vitamin <== [make it rhyme]
A wealth of health in every drop
Good for the the kids, for Mom and Pop!

"Give Byrne milk the one week test
You'll find out why Byrne's is best.
A wealth of health in every drop
Good for the kids, for Mom and Pop!"

I don't think it was Mennonite owned in the 1950's when that jingle was on the radio ...

I will sometimes try sneak a snap without being seen. Did not work on this one.

I recall visiting England about 20 years ago, on company business, and hearing complaints that we Yanks consider their country a vast theme park. IOW, fair game for our photographic penchants. (We just returned from 10 days in Iceland, which is unbelievably photogenic. I believe the Icelanders encourage photography ... they know what they've got. Population of 320 thousand, expecting 1.5 million tourists in 2016!)

"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." Dorothea Lange was right. Sometimes I just "capture" an image in my head, even at times just thinking "click."

For the last 16 years, my wife and I have lived in a semi-rural area NW of Philly, on a 2+ acre patch of once farmland, now mostly trees (and rocks ... we're on/in an eroded ancient volcanic caldera). Your "I think I could fall in love with the area where I'm living." resonates with me. Nearly every morning, I go out onto my front porch and take in "my" trees, note the multitudinous shades of green, sniff the air, savor the quiet. Not like being on Keuka, but the county park cum reservoir is nearby, if I want a body of water.

Your photo is a welcome mat. The spaciousness pulls me in and my mind begs to rendezvous with the clouds. Nice!

I love the photograph, Mike. I'm with you--why bother searching for stuff to capture when the best stuff is what you know or are getting to know.

One fine aspect of approaching 60 is that I'm more inclined to stop and take note of the ordinary. By doing so, extraordinary things often cross my path.

Of course, arthritis may have something to do with it. A handy lightweight mirroless camera is a fine appendage.

Mike, apropos the girl on a bicycle, and your recent post about running, what happened to the Rivendell bike?
A bike is one of the best photographic accessories, in my opinion.
I'm not sure if I can still do it, but I loved riding the quieter roads of the Alps slowly, able to park the bike in places no car could stop safely.

I think I could fall in love with the area where I'm living.

You already have, Mike...you already have.

Hi Mike,
I'm probably late to mention this but there is a beautiful book by Larry Towell on the Mennonites.
I have the impression the book is sold out but there is a generous portfolio on the magnum website.


Azor is a Dutch brand that still makes old-style bicyle frames (soldered, not welded). And then adds the latest in bike technology (dynamo in the front hub, up to 8 gears in the rear hub; even e-bikes are available). I own an Azor (with so-called "granny" frame) and use it professionally (the mail); it’s a tank.
I’m afraid the downloadable folder is in Dutch, but the pictures will give you some idea. Just in case you’re interested, they have reps in the US & Canada.

I grew up literally a stone's throw from an Amish farm in Lancaster, Pa., and adopted certain personal rules on photographing the Amish while respecting their beliefs.
Anything I shot which Amish subjects were unaware of me shooting was fair game, usually with a longer lens. (It's their faith, not mine.)
Ruled out were any direct, close portraits, which are generally offensive to conservative Amish sects.
Mennonites, who are identifable by various subtle clues if you grow up among them, were also fair game, perhaps because they are so entwined in business -- the Mennonite mafia -- that they don't garner the same respect as the Amish who actually live their faith.
On rare occasions when I wanted a close-in shot where Amish were present I would ask first, and often there was no objection. If there was an objection, no picture. But Amish people did appreciate being asked, in part because they are under never-ending photo assault from hordes of tourists who have no clue and show no respect.

I like them, too. Our life here in rural Kansas is made richer by our Mennonite communities.

For the past 40 years, I've been publishing a weekly newspaper in southern Lancaster County, Pa. Our Amish neighbors are accustomed to my photography and, although they won't pose, they don't object if the story is news and not just an "Amish" picture. That's especially true of the volunteer fire companies which have many Amish members. Sometimes, when the fire is under control and they're wetting down the debris, they'll switch off on the nozzle so a different firefighter can be in the paper that week.

I have a print of this image, which was a winner of the Smithsonian photo contest a few years ago:


Note the shoes, of course. They are really what makes the shot.

On the subject of "making the shot", your shot of the farm would be much less interesting without the clouds. So often, it's the clouds that complete a landscape shot.

Apropos of nothing, I opened your photo in it's own window, which I resized and scrolled into a really nice square composition.


Nice Mike, Thanks for sharing.

My first thought when I saw your picture was to look at the cornrows in the field and think of Illinois landscapes, captured by Art Sinsabaugh long ago and reminding me of long drives back when I lived in Chicago and drove relatively often between there and the east coast. But Sinsabaugh wasn't interested in the sky; he was struck by the manmade interruptions in the endless horizon. By contrast, your farmhouse nestles. There's a lot to see in flat land, and apparently you have hills as well.


I know I've mentioned it before, but since we're talking about Mennonites and photography, I'll bring it up again: the Little Book of Contemplative Photography: Seeing With Wonder, Respect And Humility by Howard Zehr is a nice little read with a modern Mennonite perspective.

I got married in Calgary (first go-round) and the pastor who officiated at Brentwood Baptist (whom I really liked,) was later turfed out due to an affair. Also the marriage did not survive, though my first bride and I are now on really good terms -she was a terrific mother to my two amazing children. But, I'm not going back to Calgary. After all, the marriage didn't last and Stephen Harper calls Calgary home.

But all the Mennonite orders (old order, Amish, "liberal" and how many other silly labels) represent a kind of constant that is reassuring.

@ Scott Kirkpatrick - the Illinois corns cape (especially in middle counties such as McLean, etc.,) can be evocative yet, as Sinsabaugh knew, strangely skewed. I knew a farmer near Heyworth who wanted to drain a pond because he actually believed it sucked water from the aquifer, thus depriving his corn from hydration. He was an idiot, of course, and actually stole from his business partner (my employer,) leading to an inflection point in my life.

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