I first met the Bruderhof while documenting the refugee crisis in a sprawling camp in Calais, where the distinctive dress and light American accents of a group of volunteering teenagers caught my attention.
I spoke with them briefly, and on my return to England I wrote to ask if I could make a photographic documentary about the Bruderhof. A reply soon came from Bernard Hibbs, who invited me to lunch at Beech Grove to discuss my ideas. We corresponded sporadically until about a year later, when Bernard rang again to ask if I would photograph a book to celebrate the community’s centenary. I jumped at the chance.
Over the following year I visited Bruderhof communities around the globe, from England to the USA and Germany to Australia. In each community I was warmly welcomed and (perhaps to the frustration of those supervising the project) spent many hours chatting about the world, politics, and life over a glass of wine or homemade beer – thank you, Jeff, for the latter! And more than once I was moved to tears by the stories we shared.
The more I experienced the more I began to appreciate what the Bruderhof refer to as “another life,” a working alternative to “my world.”
It was the Bruderhof’s commitment to pacifism and community of goods that initially sparked my interest, and it was a pleasure to experience these values in practice. As a photographer, I am meant to observe my subjects objectively, but I have to admit that I grew to admire the community. That is not to say that I didn’t encounter ideas that were contradictory to my own, but I respect their commitment to family and loved ones, the absence of wealth and possessions, the enjoyment of nature, and an immersive experience of faith. The more I experienced the more I began to appreciate what the Bruderhof refer to as “another life,” a working alternative to “my world.”
My final assignment was Sannerz, Germany, where the community began its journey. Watching the sun set over the countryside was the perfect end to the project. To all who welcomed me as I worked on it: thank you for letting me experience your life.