Friday, October 2, 2009

Living in Amish Country

After living most of my life in and around the city of Philadelphia, PA, we moved out to the Amish farmlands of Chester and Lancaster counties in May, 2008. What a change from the hustle and bustle of the big city and suburbs. The slower pace and beautiful scenery of the country is a welcome change. From the wonderful farms to the interesting scenes of Amish life, the opportunities for photographs are endless… although I have to admit I haven’t been taking full advantage of it.

The thing that has impressed me the most about the Amish people over the last year is how hard they work. Not just the men, but the women and the children of all ages. It’s not unusual to be driving along a country road and see a young woman or a 12-year old boy working the fields behind a team of six plow-horses.

I always try to keep my eyes open for good photo-opportunities, but I have to admit that I’ve missed a number of good shots for one or more of the following reasons:

  • I didn’t have my camera with me at the time (I know – a cardinal sin for a photographer).
  • I couldn’t stop the car because the location or traffic made it impossible. Driving in Amish country is generally easy and peaceful, but at certain times you get a strange mix of traffic on some of the roads. You start with the slow-moving horse-and-buggies and farm equipment, add in a bunch of big-rigs flying up and down the country roads to avoid the turnpike tolls, and mix in hordes of impatient tourists on sunny weekends… I’ve seen many dangerous situations unfold.
  • I didn’t want to violate the beliefs of the Amish regarding having their picture taken. The reason generally given for their aversion to pictures is the second commandment in Exodus 20, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” I’m not sure how many Amish actually apply that commandment to picture taking – however, I think the reason has more to do with vanity and humility. I think they feel that a picture of a person is a way of glorifying the outward man, not strengthening the inner man, which would lead them away from their goal of true humility. Being a photographer, I obviously don’t share their beliefs about picture taking, but I certainly respect them. I have taken a few pictures with Amish people in them, but usually from a distance where they are not very recognizable.
Amish Farmer by Lou Ford)
Amish Farmer (Click photo for info)

Off the topic of photography a little... I always knew a little about the Amish with their buggies and lack of electricity, but in the short time we’ve lived here I've learned a few additional things I didn’t know before:

  • They have church services every other Sunday, with services held in homes or farms.

  • When two young people want to get married, they usually “publish” their engagement in October. All weddings are usually held on Tuesdays or Thursdays in November or December.

  • Some Amish groups practice “Rumspringa”, meaning “running around”, where boys and girls in their late teens are allowed to experience the ways of the world before they decide to leave or stay in the Amish church. Despite the spotlight of the media on the few who get into rebellious behavior, the vast majority (80 – 90%) of Amish youth decide to stay.

  • Under no circumstances would an Amish farm be connected into the power grid – it’s too much of a direct link to the outside world. However, they can use off-line sources of power like batteries and gas generators for things like refrigeration, welding farm equipment, and certain businesses, like carpentry. They also are allowed to have phones, but not in the main house – only in outbuildings, where it won’t interfere with family life.
Baling the Hay by Lou Ford
Baling the Hay (Click photo for info)

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NEXT POST: Another Step Back in Time

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