Otherworldly nonconformists

Photos capture austere Old Colony life

El Cuervo (Casas Grandes Colonies), Chihuahua, Mexico, 1992. — Larry Towell/Magnum Photos El Cuervo (Casas Grandes Colonies), Chihuahua, Mexico, 1992. — Larry Towell/Magnum Photos

Vulnerable, authentic and utterly powerful, Larry Towell’s The Mennonites is a collection of photographs of conservative colony Mennonites in Mexico and Canada.

Originally published by GOST Books in 2000, the weighty, hardbound volume has been reprinted this year for the first time. Bound in black and packaged in a plain slipcase, it’s as stoic as its subjects and expands the original edition with 38 previously unpublished images.

Towell shot the photos over nearly 10 years in the 1990s after discovering Mennonites, as he puts it, “in my own back yard, landhungry and dirt poor.”

“They came looking for work in the vegetable fields and fruit orchards of Lambton, Essex, Kent and Haldimand-Norfolk counties [in Ontario],” he writes. “I liked them because they seemed otherworldly and therefore completely vulnerable in a society in which they did not belong.”

Towell’s eye vacillates between arid vistas and intimate portraits. Rarely posed, snapshots of funerals, chores, worship, carousing, children’s play and all the quiet points in between strip away pretense. These are people defined by the land, no matter how bleak and unforgiving it might be.

Washington Post photo editor Kenneth Dickerman called the original book a classic: “Some of the photos have achieved near iconic status.”

Towell’s memories of interactions in the colonies underline his eye for subtle details and give context to the many wordless pages, rendered starkly in black and white.

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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