RELIGION
08/31/2016 01:19 pm ET

Photographer Captures Insulated Christian Community He Left As A Teenager

The Hutterites trace their roots back to the 16th century.
The Hutterites, an insulated Christian sect, live in "colonies" primarily in parts of Canada and the United States.
Kelly Hofer
The Hutterites, an insulated Christian sect, live in "colonies" primarily in parts of Canada and the United States.

In pockets of western Canada and the American Great Plains, there live a people almost entirely shut off from the world. They live in tight knit, communal “colonies” centered around the family ― but every now and then someone runs away to forge a life in the wider world.

They are the Hutterites, a denomination of Christian Anabaptists who, like the Amish and Mennonites, are characterized by the practice of delaying baptism until adulthood. There are an estimated 40,000 Hutterites in the world today, descended from the sect’s 16th-century founders.

Kelly Hofer, a photographer based in Calgary, Canada, left his Hutterite community in 2012 at age 19. In a new book of photographs captured largely during his teenage years, Hofer gives outsiders an inside glimpse of the insular culture that at least 10 generations of his family have called home.

“I feel that the Hutterite culture is one of the best places to grow up in,” Hofer told The Huffington Post. “There are so many things they do right, especially in taking care of one another.”

Hutterite colonies house just 15 or so families at a time. They live by principles they believe to be laid out in the Bible, leading simple, communal lives of hard work, strict gender segregation and daily study of scriptures.

Life on a Hutterite colony is regimented and functional, organized around the belief that the needs of the group outweigh the needs of any individual. It’s a system that works for many Hutterites, but for Hofer and others it restricts their natural expression.

A portrait of the photographer.
Kelly Hofer
A portrait of the photographer.

“When it comes to some human rights,” the photographer said, “they are dragging their feet.” 

Hofer, for instance, is gay and feared the reaction of his community had he come out while living within the colony.

“I left home for two primary reasons,” he told HuffPost. “Primarily to be able to exit the proverbial closet. Being gay is right up there in terms of wrongdoings, and coming out in that environment would have been toxic.”

On top of that, his chosen trade of photography isn’t one commonly embraced by Hutterites.

“Many Hutterite colonies including mine have always been unsupportive of photography. Especially the older folks didn’t appreciate it,” Hofer said. “Photography in a way went against the modest disposition imbued by the Hutterite population, as well as a few ideas expressed in the Bible.”

Despite feeling like an outsider at times, Hofer said photography was one way in which he chose immerse himself in the goings on of the colony and connect with his fellow Hutterites.

The cover of Hofer's book, <i>Hutterite</i>.
Kelly Hofer
The cover of Hofer's book, Hutterite.

What resulted is a book of more than 200 behind-the-scenes photographs that show off the singular existence of life on a Hutterite colony. Hofer launched a Kickstarter at the beginning of August to raise money to print and ship the books around the world.

With a few days left to go in the campaign, Hofer surpassed his fundraising goal and has now crowdsourced more than $22,000 for the project. He hopes to ship the books out to those who donated by the end of October.

Scroll down to see a sampling from Hofer’s book, Hutterite, and check out more of the artist’s work here.

  • When a wedding fell on the same week as a flood in Maple Grove Colony the guests sought higher ground&nbsp;to see it.
    Kelly Hofer
    When a wedding fell on the same week as a flood in Maple Grove Colony the guests sought higher ground to see it.
  • Women collecting cabbage.
    Kelly Hofer
    Women collecting cabbage.
  • Sisters Elaine and Alice spending the evening together on the side of a hill overlooking the river.
    Kelly Hofer
    Sisters Elaine and Alice spending the evening together on the side of a hill overlooking the river.
  • In the field during seeding time with Joyce.
    Kelly Hofer
    In the field during seeding time with Joyce.
  • Doria playing defense in a game of soccer. Using her dress as extra blocking coverage.
    Kelly Hofer
    Doria playing defense in a game of soccer. Using her dress as extra blocking coverage.
  • Young Hutterite men spend an evening with girls visiting from another colony.
    Kelly Hofer
    Young Hutterite men spend an evening with girls visiting from another colony.
  • From summer to winter, the hockey rink was either a volleyball court or a hockey rink. But lights had to be out by 11.
    Kelly Hofer
    From summer to winter, the hockey rink was either a volleyball court or a hockey rink. But lights had to be out by 11.
  • Matthew in the playground.
    Kelly Hofer
    Matthew in the playground.
  • My Mom (Rachel) and sister (SaraAnn) in the sewing room.
    Kelly Hofer
    My Mom (Rachel) and sister (SaraAnn) in the sewing room.
  • Coming home from a walk to the valley.
    Kelly Hofer
    Coming home from a walk to the valley.
  • Evenings at the pool.
    Kelly Hofer
    Evenings at the pool.
  • A kilometer south of the colony was the Souris River where we would often fish.
    Kelly Hofer
    A kilometer south of the colony was the Souris River where we would often fish.
  • Kaylee standing amidst the poppies.
    Kelly Hofer
    Kaylee standing amidst the poppies.
  • Kaitlyn, Ava and Doria loved to play &ldquo;house." Here they are at the monkey bars with wooden utensils, pretending to use
    Kelly Hofer
    Kaitlyn, Ava and Doria loved to play “house." Here they are at the monkey bars with wooden utensils, pretending to use sand as a drink.
  • Rather than spending Valentine's as couples, the young people would come together for music, food, drinks and games at the sc
    Kelly Hofer
    Rather than spending Valentine's as couples, the young people would come together for music, food, drinks and games at the school.
  • Seeding is mostly a solitary, computer driven operation. But refilling seed and fertilizer, as well as unclogging pipes and c
    Kelly Hofer
    Seeding is mostly a solitary, computer driven operation. But refilling seed and fertilizer, as well as unclogging pipes and cleaning the air seeder still has to be done manually.
  • Hutterite women on a cliff overlooking the surrounding land.
    Kelly Hofer
    Hutterite women on a cliff overlooking the surrounding land.
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