National Geographic : 1970 Jul
Eli's living room was typical of Hutterite austerity: several chairs, a small table, and a little bookshelf. There were no pictures deco rating the walls, which had been painted with glossy enamel for easy cleaning. Often when we talked, his wife and most of their nine sons and daughters would gather in the room. At times I'd get lost in the con versation when, by habit, they slipped into the German they speak among themselves. "You know it is forbidden for us to be pho tographed," Eli said sternly, eyeing my camera bag on my first visit. Like the Amish, Hut terites are taught that a photograph is a graven image. I discovered later that many Hutterites have photographs of themselves tucked away, pictures taken by outside friends. They are allowed to keep them, but are told not to admire their likenesses. I told Eli I respected their beliefs. I asked, however, if I might be allowed to photograph their way of life without asking anyone to pose. Could I simply be around to observe as unobtrusively as possible? "Well, I suppose you could," he said after much thought. "But why don't you just live our way? Maybe after you are here awhile, you will see that this is the only way to live." In the many days I spent at Surprise Creek, I was seldom far out of the preacher's sight. Eli delighted in startling me at times. "Hey, you!" he would shout, finding me in the kitchen photographing the women can ning strawberries. "What are you doing! No pictures of the women!" There was often such sternness in his voice that I would wince and look quickly for the laughter in his eyes. It was always there. AHUTTERITE PREACHER'S JOB is not an easy one. He must direct his people in a spiritual life far from the mainstream of the Space Age. He must repre sent authority and guidance to the young members who are always in danger of "seeing too much of the outside world." One day I asked Eli's wife Susie if she was going to attend the county fair in Stanford. A plump and cheerful woman whose face seemed incapable of a frown, she answered as if revealing a deep secret. "I'm 60 years old," she said softly. "And do you know, my eyes have never seen a merry go-round." "But will the children go?" I asked. "Yes, I'm afraid they will," she said. "It's not as easy to keep them at home as when I was a child." They did go, and two came home with trophies won in the relay horse race. In some ways I represented the outside world that Eli and other preachers fear for the temptations it offers their young people. Besides my cameras and my car with its radio, perhaps most of all I represented inde pendence to come and go as I pleased. It was not an easy decision for the leaders of the colonies to permit me to work among them as a journalist. For allowing me to pho tograph some of the intimacies of their way of life, they could be harshly criticized by the elders of their sect.