After years of newspaper and magazine stints that were beginning to feel too transient, photographer Tim Smith longed for a sense of intimacy with his subjects.
In 2009, he stumbled upon the Deerboine Hutterite colony in western Manitoba. Soon, capturing the daily lives of the Hutterites turned into the long-term project Smith had been searching for.
“It clicked that this would be a project that I could spend six months to a year on. I didn’t think I would spend 13 years on it,” Smith says.
Now, Smith’s multi-year project, In the world, but not of it, will be showcased at the MHC Gallery at the Canadian Mennonite University from Sept. 16 to Nov. 12. The exhibition provides snapshots that display a deeper look into Hutterite colonies in the province.
According to director and curator Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk, the MHC Gallery is committed to understanding, respecting and caring for each other through artistic expression. This mandate made Smith’s project one they couldn’t refuse.
“Tim’s commitment to building that relationship and representing his subjects with care really stood out to us. It seemed like a good fit for the gallery,” Hodges-Kolisnyk says.
According to Smith, Hutterites are either romanticized or denigrated as traditional, when, in reality, their communities are much more intricate. His intention is to display the nuance and complexity of the communities.
“As human beings, the way our brains filter information that we don’t understand is to find the simplest explanations,” Smith says. “This causes problems that could lead to a rejectionist view of people, cultures and issues that we don’t understand.”
Hodges-Kolisnyk points out that Hutterite groups are often “othered” in Manitoba due to misconceptions and prejudices. Despite this, she says “Hutterite colonies are very welcoming and very open to building relationships with people and with groups outside of the colony.”
“It’s important to give a voice to these communities, so that they can tell their stories in a way that they want them to be told and how they want to be seen,” Hodges-Kolisnyk says. “Tim does a great job of capturing this negotiated place of tradition and modern, connected lives.”
Smith adds that Hutterite communities do not typically partake in mainstream society. Hutterites “are not attached to the elements of the outside world that are seen as either corrupt or against the values of their communities,” Smith says. “ The opposite side of this, of course, is that they’re constantly negotiating how much of the outside world they’re willing to let in, in order to remain prosperous.”
Smith clarifies that he does not speak for the Hutterite colonies and people he photographed. He simply shares his perspective based on his experience while spending time with the colonies over the years.
He shares a quote written by Hutterite author Paul S. Gross from his book The Hutterite Way that Smith says highlights how Hutterites believe their lifestyle is best for them.
“We cannot please the world and God at the same time ... Either we take this world with all it offers, including trouble, mental stress, sorrow and death at the end, or else we take a better way.”
For more information about the exhibition, visit cmu.ca/gallery/exhibits.
Published in Volume 77, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 22, 2022)