Documenting the cultures of people who produce food is a common thread in photojournalist Michael Hanson’s work. While covering the Rick Santorum campaign in Ohio several years ago, Hanson’s curiosity led him to an Amish family that ran a dairy farm. Photographing the Amish was difficult, as photography or pictures are not always welcomed in Amish communities. “It was a challenge to make these images. And that challenge enticed me. … I wanted to see what was behind the curtain,” Hanson said. The family introduced Hanson to the Mount Hope Horse Auction, a predominantly Amish event where farm animals and equipment are sold to buyers from across the country. Hanson recalls about the auction, the old, red auction house was a time machine. Walking through that showroom and the back corrals offered a glimpse of a stubborn culture that fights change. And, maybe that’s what drew me to the Amish and a simple life. I use technology too often. … It’s a freedom I can’t find in my office.”

Hanson later sought to photograph an Amish community in Unity, Maine. He connected with a man who ran a furniture business. “I knew that he was a little more lenient than other Amish families, as he agreed to let me stay with him in exchange for help at the county fair,” Hanson said.  Hanson always sensed a strong sense of community while covering Amish families but knew when someone rejected the church, they were shunned. When he arrived at the man’s home, he was loading furniture into a horse-drawn trailer. Hanson learned he had denounced the church, that he was no longer Amish. According to Hanson, the man’s faith had been waning for some time. The implications were extreme — his family left him and moved to Kentucky. At his daughter’s wedding, he was made to sit alone outside the tent. He sees his daughter but not his grandsons, and his interaction with them is cold. His life remains simple but his motivations are now out of concern for the environment, believing a simple lifestyle is the only sustainable one.

Hanson’s natural curiosity about cultures is what drove him to cover Kazakhstan and the Dominican Republic this year, and he says it “will be my focus on the next project, wherever that takes me.”  See more of Michael Hanson’s work here.

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