Photographer Tim Smith (left) and curator Axel Lapp at the opening night of “Die Hutterer.”Submitted

Original Published on Jul 16, 2022 at 10:07

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Full of gratitude and excitement, a Brandon photographer is preparing to travel to South Korea next week for the DongGang International Photo Festival.

Tim Smith, photojournalist with the Sun, has been a professional newspaper photographer for 19 years, working in various cities in Western Canada before settling in Brandon nearly 15 years ago.

Now, after two quiet years where he wasn’t able to create new art or showcase his existing work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith is travelling the globe to present his portfolio of Hutterite colonies in Manitoba, to the public.

Smith recently returned from the MEWO Kunsthalle gallery in Memmingen, Germany, where his work was featured as a solo gallery exhibition that opened on July 7 and will run until Oct. 9.

Smith said having his work recognized on an international scale marks a new phase in his career.

“Being able to open my first solo show outside of North America in Germany at the gallery … I think is important and a big step.”

The DongGang International Photo Festival opens on July 22. Smith will be part of an outdoor group exhibition, and his work will be featured in another solo exhibition as the Festival Artist of the Year at the DongGang Photo Museum in Yeongwol-gun, South Korea, the country’s first-ever public photo museum.

Smith’s work documenting the lives and culture of people living in Manitoba’s Hutterite colonies began with a spark of curiosity about who the people were and what their lives — hidden away on the vast Prairies — were really like.

“Most people, including myself when I started this project, don’t know a lot about that culture, and they’re drawn to what they don’t know.”

People have a lot of assumptions about groups that live apart from mainstream society, Smith said.

“That’s partly what attracted me in the first place, is to show those differences. But I quickly moved on from that to photographing the complexity of their society, and trying to show outsiders who aren’t maybe as familiar with that culture, similarities and aspects that they can relate to in their own lives.”

Smith approached the colonies looking to do some in-depth work that would prove a welcome change of pace from his day-to-day career.

“I was looking for a topic that I knew nothing about to photograph over the long-term, because as much as I love what I do as a photojournalist, we are in and out of people’s lives usually in such a brief manner,” Smith said. “I wanted something that I could really get into in-depth.”

His wish came true and he was able to spend far more time photographing Hutterite colonies than he ever imagined he would.

“I thought I’d spend maybe a year on it. I never expected that 13 years later I’d still be photographing it.”

The slow pace Smith took meant he was able to develop strong bonds of trust with the community. The more he worked with the people there, the sharper his focus became. Now, his work is among the broadest and most nuanced visual documentation of Hutterite culture in the world.

“It’s a very niche thing, but … [it’s] the work that I’m most proud of.”

The entire process of photographing the lives of people on Hutterite colonies has been extremely rewarding, Smith said. Since the project has spanned over a decade, he has seen the communities grow and change.

“I’ve watched kids grow up and young people start their own families and have their own kids. I’ve been there for beautiful moments like graduations and baptisms and weddings, and also tragic moments.”

Smith said what’s most apparent in his work is the passage of time and the element of change apparent in the secluded communities.

“They’re changing the same way we’re changing in the outside world.”

Smith hopes his work can be a starting point for people who are interested in learning more about Hutterites, an Anabaptist Christian sect who reject personal ownership and who own land communally.

Strict pacifists who refuse to vote or hold public office, Hutterites trace their roots to the Radical Reformation that began in Germany and Switzerland in the 16th century. They migrated to Russia in the 1770s, and then to North America about 100 years later. Today, almost all Hutterite colonies are located in Western Canada and in the Upper Great Plains of the United States.

“I’m very grateful for the communities that allow me to photograph [them],” Smith said. “It’s just been such a privilege to make friends and get to know these communities.”

Smith’s work will also be showcased this summer and fall at the Ragusa Foto Festival and Festival della Fotografia Etica in Italy, the Verzasca Foto Festival in Switzerland, the Helsinki Photo Festival in Finland and the Head On Photo Festival in Sydney, Australia. In February, Smith’s work will be on display at the Xposure Photo Festival in the United Arab Emirates.

This item reprinted with permission from The Sun, Brandon, Manitoba