The Billings Gazette reported on Saturday that a non-Hutterite artist has prepared a photography exhibit of daily life in six Hutterite colonies for display in several Montana museums. The unique aspect of the exhibit is that the photos were all shot last fall by Hutterite children, with the permission of their colony elders.
After securing approval from the adults, Cheryl Bannes, the artist, distributed 50 disposable cameras to children with instructions on how to take photos of ordinary, daily life as they saw it. Each colony chose a week for the children to take their pictures. After the kids got past mugging for cameras held by their friends, some of them settled down to taking really creative shots. Unfortunately, the newspaper article does not include any examples of the photos.
Ms. Bannes told the paper, “giving [the children] the ability to show their unique lifestyle to people who have had no exposure to Hutterite colonies seemed like a natural thing to do. I hope people who see the show will be a little less afraid to ask questions.” The artist said that most of the colonies had reservations about the children posing for the cameras, but only one had really serious concerns about being involved in the project. It ultimately decided to allow its children to participate.
The exhibit, called “A Week in the Life of a Hutterite Child,” includes the 36 best color and black and white photographs taken by the children, selected by a committee consisting of the artist and an advisory group of teachers and Hutterite adults. The winning pictures were chosen out of 1,200 photos taken. At the Ayers Colony, a 15 year old girl took pictures of women working in the kitchen and other kids riding horses in a field. Other photos captured people sewing, picking berries, harvesting potatoes, and skinning animals. One shows a girl, dressed in her traditional garb, swinging a baseball bat. Others depict women making pies, a decomposing jack-o-lantern, a boy hugging a dog, and so on.
The exhibition will be shown at the Missoula Art Museum from February 12 through April 26, and it will be on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum later in the year. Ms. Bannes, who lives in Lewistown, Montana, and is Artist-in-Residence with the Montana Arts Council, has wide experience working with rural schools and communities in the state. She had the students study the work of a pioneering Montana photographer, Evelyn Cameron, before she instructed them in the basics of photography and composition. The 36 best photos were enlarged and framed for the exhibit.
One of the teachers at the Ayers Colony school, Susan Seastrand, praised some of the pictures. She added that the children do not have any sense of discrimination when they interact with outsiders, but they, and their parents, would like the “English,” as they call non-Hutterite people, to have a more complete knowledge of the traditions and lifestyles of the colonies. The Hutterites participated in the photography project as a way of promoting that understanding.