by Amber Allen
In an era when progress and change design every day culture Susan Einstein presents a quieter image of 90s life through black and white photography.
“Rules and Order: views of an Amish community” is the title for this collection of photographs created in an Amish Community in northwestern Indiana where Einstein lived for four years.
Einstein grew up in Hollywood and studied art history at UCLA. She currently works for the Gene Autry Museum as a freelance photographer.
Although Einstein is not Amish herself, she came to appreciate and understand the traditions and beliefs that construct the Amish lifestyle.
“No one is allowed to photograph people in the Amish community. Their life is controlled by innumerable rules that keep them separated from the rest of the world,“ she said.
Despite these conditions, a few of the teenagers allowed themselves to be subjects of her pictures. Teenagers, once they turn 16, can be granted a “sanctioned period of rebellion” when it is acceptable for them to date, party, drive cars and wear name brand clothing. Because baptizing is an adult ritual, teenagers are not considered members of the church and are not bound by biblical rules. Often a young adult will return to the practices of their individual church and family once the time for personal growth has passed.
The Amish avidly maintain a self sufficient lifestyle without the use of modern conveniences such as electricity or motor powered machines. Einstein made sure to capture this essence of simplicity in her photographs.
One such photograph was taken of an Amish “garage” which houses four wooden buggies similar to the ones seen in old western period television shows.
Einstein found this casual lifestyle comforting in comparison to the more aggressive Hollywood atmosphere.
“Living as one of their neighbors the feeling tends to seep into you.”
One of her most treasured pictures is one she took spontaneously. It portrays two elderly women involved in shopping at the farmers market.
“I turned around and there they were. I snapped the picture and turned around before anyone noticed. It’s rare when you get an opportunity like that.”
This picture, like the others of the Amish people, has never been viewed by the public because of the private nature of the Amish people. Interested in showing more of her original work to the public, Einstein presents her collection of Amish photographs in this exhibit.
There are few mediums of individual artistic expression that the Amish allow themselves to create. Quilting, which is famous for its intricate designs and brilliant colors, is one such mediums. Einstein observed that even this mode of artistic expression has taken on a more humble appearance. Einstein believes this is a result of the increasing popularity of quilting and the Amish’s dislike for any sort of public attention.
“Even though they believe as the Bible says that you shall not reproduce graven images of yourself or focus on the individual, I think they have a secret desire to be seen as an individual. Their ideas of progress and identity are so different from most Americans, yet their traditional beliefs are not black and white. Every family has an specific interpretation of the rules,” she said.
Einstein witnessed this inner desire for identity when she presented a sampling of her Amish photography at a nearby museum in Indiana. Although the Amish do not express opinion or curiosity she noted their interest in her photographs.
“They recognized the pictures of their neighbor’s work station or front yard. They looked at the photographs very closely and I think secretly they did enjoy them.”
Although she enjoys the reality based themes in her photography, Einstein desires to be more involved in a spiritual interpretation.
“You never stop learning about photography. There will always be people who want to create with their hands.”
“Rules and Order…” will be available for viewing in the Irene Carlson Gallery in Miller Hall until March 10.