By Kevin Williams
Photography and the Amish is a tricky topic.
First of all, not all Amish are opposed to photography. In some settlements it is perfectly acceptable, in other communities - the majority of them - photography is still taboo. But even there, there is nuance. Some Amish churches don't even want to see a camera, others don't mind if you take photos of their laundry, buggies, etc. Common courtesy is the rule: just ask before you shoot.
When I first started in this business years ago I would hear tales of angry Amish men who would rip a camera from a photographer's neck and run over it with a buggy. I'm guessing most of those are just "tall tales" but it still illustrated the perils.
In addition to Amish views on photography evolving, photography itself as evolved since I've been in the business. Now virtually everyone is armed with a camera of some sort. Some of them are pretty darn good cameras. Digital photography has made everyone an aspiring photographer. So professional photographers today have to distinguish themselves with a keen eye and skill and Indiana photographer David Arment has both. I really, really like his images and his personal connection to the culture. If you have no acquainted yourself with his work, you'll want to by reading the interview below and visiting his gallery in Shipshewana!
AMISH365: How did you first become interested in photography?
David Arment: I was the high school photographer way back in 1968. I lived in a house with no running water and no central heat in rural Missouri. So when you get to be the high school photographer it is pretty neat because you get to use the school's camera, film etc. I'd never had the chance to see if I liked photography were it not for this opportunity. I started taking pictures of Amish about 8 years ago when I married a lady who lived near Millersburg, IN. Most of our neighbors were Amish. The neighbor to our north was the local bishop.
My wife had lived there for a long time and was friends with all the Amish neighbors. The bishop had the local Amish shun us as were were both remarrying. It confused a lot of people how non-Amish could be shunned... but we were. However it didn't seem to stick as over time the bishop was very friendly to us.
We have since moved to Shipshewana and my fascination with Amish images continues to grow. We are not allowed to take Amish faces. Having said that if those faces were "English" we would be obliged to get a "model release form" signed in order to use the image anyway. So while some think not getting faces is difficult it seems to me to be just courteous and "common sense." I try hard not to get Amish faces.
Amish365: Are there other aspects of photographing the Amish that are challenging?
DavidArment: I guess NOT getting faces is made more difficult by the younger, teenageish type Amish who see a camera and smile and wave and carry on. It's hard to not get their picture when they are trying to be the center of attention. And I've become a Photoshop wizard at removing "road apples" from the road in buggy scenes!
Amish365: What are your favorite photos and why?
David Arment: I like this photo because of the fact the fence posts lead your eye to the subject and I like the simplicity of the scene. One of my Amish friends LOVED the picture... then later recanted his admiration, because he could see the horses head which meant the horse was not pulling straight. So we as "English" see one thing while the Amish see something else. Here is another favorite: This picture puts you in the buggy...
This Amish family came into the gallery and we talked about the following two pictures because it is them. Click here for picture #1. Click here for picture #2. You can't see all of the people on the steam engine with the bonnets, there are some little ones you can't see. The second picture was taken after dark at our local steam engine show which is called Reminiscence Days. They scoop corn cob pellets into the fire box and turn up the power... Amish Fireworks result.
I also like this picture because it is clearly a younger person doing field work...
... but it hard to pick favorites...
Amish365: What is the biggest mistake a novice photographer makes?
David Arment: I guess the biggest mistake they make is not taking time to understand how their camera works. They should spend some time reading the instruction manual and some basic books on photography. We have a "photo guild" here in Shipshewana that meets monthly. We assign ourselves projects. The last one was waterfalls. One person did okay and brought in a nice picture of a waterfall, but after the meeting he went out and did the assignment again and based upon what he'd learned then he had some really nice shots.
Some people take photographs because its fun, some people take photographs because its profitable, some take photographs to capture memories and some people are obsessed with capturing images. There are lots of people taking pictures.
Digital has opened up photography to everyone.
Amish365: What is the best way to purchase some of your work?
David Arment: The best way to purchase pictures is to walk into the gallery at 260 Morton in Shipshewana, Indiana. If you can't do that the next best thing is to visit our online store here. (Editor's Note: You can always click the ad tile for David Arment on the right side of your page to visit his store!)