Get a unique look inside the local Amish community through ‘The Fence’ photo exhibit.
There’s one community in Sarasota where the tourists opt for bonnets rather than bucket hats, yet their faces are mostly absent from local tourism marketing materials.
But it makes sense why photographers don’t often capture leisure moments in Pinecraft — the Amish aren’t exactly big fans of technology like cameras.
“They were cool with me shooting and asking questions, and I think that was the first thing I noticed,” says New York City-based photographer Dina Litovsky. “Nobody was putting a hand in my camera.”
Litovsky traveled to Sarasota last year on assignment for The New Yorker. There was no writer and no specific goal in mind. She was just told to come back with a photo essay that shows what it’s like to be an Amish person on vacation in Sarasota.
The result was “Where the Amish Vacation,” a documentary-style photo series that is part of national touring photography exhibit “The Fence” on display through Jan. 31 at Nathan Benderson Park.
“The Fence” is a large-scale exhibit of works printed on vinyl mesh and installed outdoors in eight cities around the country. Organized by Brooklyn-based gallery United Photo Industries, this exhibit is based on the works of 40 artists who were chosen out of thousands of submissions from around the world.
Submissions are broken into seven subject categories — creatures, food, home, nature, people, play and streets. Litovsky’s photos fall under the “people” category, which is appropriate for the freelance photographer. Her work typically examines social performances and group interactions in both public and private spaces, and that’s exactly what she aimed to do in Pinecraft.
Litovsky only shot in the community for two days, but right away she was struck by how relaxed the Amish and Mennonite tourists were about getting their photo taken. They were relaxed about most things, actually — occasionally breaking tradition by using cellphones and cameras and often riding bicycles.
They are on vacation, after all.
The artist shot all her photos on a 35 mm camera without flash, the latter of which was particularly unusual for her, yet intentional.
“I wanted to step back a lot,” Litovsky says. “(With flash) I would have needed an assistant and that would become invasive. I didn’t want to be disturbing — I think that would have killed the realness of the moments.”
Instead, she tried to go with the flow. When shooting a youth volleyball game for example, Litovsky stayed for a couple hours to watch and would take a few photos every once in a while rather than getting a bunch of shots quickly then leaving.
That way she made the players more comfortable. As they became more familiar with her, she developed a level of unstated trust with the subjects of her photos.
Her curiosity was not fully satisfied, however, because Litovsky feels she has much more to learn about the people of Pinecraft. That’s why she’s coming back this winter, hopefully around Christmas to see how the community celebrates the holiday.
This time around it isn’t on assignment. She might end up selling the photos from the project, but Litovsky says it would be more appropriate to refer to the project’s continuation as a labor of love.
Litovsky says her efforts are fueled simply by curiosity and a not-so-simple question: How do groups behave when they’re taken out of their usual environment?
“A lot of my work deals with people and leisure,” Litovsky says. “So this is about a group of people during their leisure time — (a group) who is usually really removed and isolated but here they’re on vacation and it gives you a sense of what this community is really like.”
Litovsky was excited to learn that her photos will be shared with Sarasotans through “The Fence” because she hopes to give them a peek into a community right around the corner from their own that they might not know much about (or about which they might have preconceived notions).
“I just love the idea that it’s a public installation and not confined to a gallery so a lot of people get to see it,” she says. “Hopefully they will like it and learn something.”