How Do You Photograph the Amish? Let Us Count the Ways
CJR: The AP’s Carolyn Kaster appreciates this approach but has a slightly different philosophy: whenever possible, do no harm. “You can go through this business and try to make pictures of impact and importance but if an image is to have a journalistic purpose, to communicate something, if you can communicate it in a different way, without causing harm, then I think you’re obliged to do that,” Kaster said. She described a photograph that she declined to take last week because consent was not granted: She approached an Amish school in the area and “without my cameras explained who I was and what I’d like to do, to take a picture of kids on school grounds with no one singled out.” The teacher told Kaster that the children were “very wary” and asked her not to take the picture. “I said no problem. I did not make that photograph.” Kaster went to two other schools and got the same answer. “I had every right as an American to stand on public property and take that photograph,” she said. “I could’ve taken the picture and asked the teacher later. But that’s just how I approach this community.” Kaster added, “That might have been a key picture — children in the schoolyard of a one-room Amish schoolhouse,” and conceded that colleagues might criticize her for not having taken that photograph. “But,” she said, “I found another way to communicate what I wanted to communicate that I felt was within the boundaries of the [Amish traditions]” — by waiting for the children to get out of school and “be away from the school house environment,” finding a group of them walking home and talking to them and photographing them as they “hammed it up.” Said Kaster, “I could tell I wasn’t frightening them and causing them grief by photographing them. And I did have a job to do. I needed to make pictures of the Amish community, specifically children.” (As both Kaster and the Intelligencer Journal’s Dan Marschka pointed out, the Amish are baptized as adults and so children, not yet church members, are not under the same religious prohibitions regarding photography). Here.