I believe all photographers are storytellers. Whether we are telling the story of an event, of who someone is, or of beauty in the moment, every photograph is a story. As we put these individual stories together, they become the story of ourselves, the photographer. Where we come from, who we are interested in, what we see, how we choose to portray the world. Whether we realize it or not, we are in every photograph we create.
Returning from my family visit to Ohio, I realized that there is a story to tell in photographs that I haven’t told before. A story I was able to photograph for the first time since becoming an artist. In my few days there, I barely scratched the surface. I didn’t even really try to capture and tell this story fully, but I see it there, in the images I returned home with.
It’s the story of my family heritage on my father’s side: Amish.
But it’s not just the story of “the Amish.” I’m not an anthropologist or historian, to chronicle the timeline or study the culture. I’m not a reporter, looking to get the inside scoop. It’s the story of my father, my family, me. I want to understand how it all fits together; how it influenced who I am.
My father grew up Amish on a farm in Holmes County, Ohio. He was one of nine children: Eight are still living, seven are living in or near Holmes County, five remained Amish.
My Uncle Aden now owns the family farm, 155 acres in total, which includes 50 acres of woods, two farm houses, outbuildings, and a barn of which no one quite knows the age. My Uncle David estimates at least 150 years old.
Growing up in Colorado, we visited every year or two. We were suburban kids getting the taste of a farm life for a quick week. My dad pitched in with the chores and we could tag along in the barn, as long as we stayed out of the way or helped our cousins. We might get to feed the horses, the giant draft horses that worked the field or the buggy horses, almost dainty in comparison.
We might try milking a cow (by hand, at that time) or try to catch the wild barn cats who kept the rodent population in check. There were always adventures waiting in the barn, if you weren’t afraid to get dirty.
Those memories are just echoes in my head now. There are no cows left on the family farm where my father grew up. The milking stalls are empty.
The milk house is quiet. Left as if someone might come back, any moment, and start the operation up again. Maybe someday, one of my cousins or my cousins kids, will start farming here again.
It’s a hard life, but an honest way of life. You think, looking in from the outside, that it is so different from our modern lives, but it’s not really. It doesn’t have to be. Living simply, working hard, enjoying family, creating community… We can all have these things whether we have electric lights or not. They are all choices.
My father chose not to remain in the Amish way of life, but he chose the things that mattered out of it. And each of us, me, my sister and brother, have that handed down to us as well. We get to carry that piece of the Amish heritage with us.
This was the story that came out of my photographs. A tiny piece of who I am and where I came from. I didn’t know I was capturing this story, any story really, when I was there. I sometimes forget that my photographs are not of some random subject, but of me, no matter what thing is in them.
Looking at these images, I feel as if there are so many stories left, waiting to be captured. Waiting to be told. I feel a pull to go back, and explore these stories more.