A Manitoba photographer is showcasing a labour of love in a new art exhibit that tells the story of life on a Hutterite Colony. 

Tim Smith is a photojournalist of the Brandon Sun newspaper. 

"In 2009, I had lived in Brandon for two years, still getting to know the prairies and where I fit in," says Smith. "I was looking for something beyond the daily work that I do for the paper but wasn't sure what that would be. One day I drove by Deerboine Colony and the women of the colony were out planting the garden. I pulled over and asked if I could take a few photos of them."

What started out as happenstance turned into a 13-year project of taking photos of Hutterites as well as getting to know them and their culture. 

"I approached the minister and spoke to him about whether it would be possible for me to come back. At the time I thought I would spend maybe a year on this and I never imagined how involved I would get, and how long it would take to do the work."

In 2004 the idea of 'Blue Zones' came about, defining places in the world where people live the longest and are potentially the happiest. 

"The way Hutterite Colonies fit into those Blue Zones is due to their strong community bonds with each other as well as their connection to the world around them. I've heard different anecdotes about depression being less than in North American mainstream society, than in colonies and happiness levels being higher. Not to say that colony life is perfect."

Common Misconceptions

"We're very simple creatures in a lot of ways and we want simple explanations for things. It's a human nature thing," says Smith. "We want to fit things we don't understand into clean, tidy boxes."

Smith says life in a Hutterite colony isn't often what people imagine. 

"There tends to be a lot of romanticizing of their culture like this is ideal outside of mainstream society where they have perfected this aspect of communal living. Or there tends to be denigration and sometimes mocking, in that their society is backwards or old-fashioned. What I've learned and what I try to convey in my work is that their society is extremely complex."

As with any society that is different than a person's, Smith shares that people need to explore them to understand the culture as best as possible.

"I think a lot of people assume they're just rural farmers with very simple lives. But these people run some of the most modern farms in North America, not to mention high-tech manufacturing operations and a variety of businesses."

Smith says he came into the project almost fully in the dark as to how they live life, and found many aspects that surprised him. 

"Even that first day when I was in the garden, one of the women pulled a flip phone out of her pocket in the dress and took a couple of photos of me taking photos. I thought, they have cell phones on the colony?"

The Role of Faith

The Hutterites are an Anabaptist group whose roots trace back to Tyrol, Austria in the wake of the 16th century Radical Reformation.

"Faith is the overarching important theme in colony life. It's what ties their community and social bonds together."

Smith shares that even the layout of how their build their community showcases their faith.

"Even the traditional way the colony is designed is that the church is at the centre of the colony and the homes surround it. Traditionally that is the way they design it. It's an important metaphor because that is how colony life is run. Their faith is at the centre of everything they do."

Art that Tells a Story

Smith has an art exhibit opening up that will display his photos of Hutterites and their life. 

A Hutterite spackled in blood. (Supplied)A Hutterite boy spackled in blood. (Supplied)

"That was during the butchering of their egg-laying chickens at the colony which happens once a year," says Smith describing the picture above. "At the time, the colony had 11,000 egg-laying chickens, so that's a lot to go through, to slaughter, over two days."

One other common misconception is that there may not be much fun on a Hutterite colony. 

A Hutterite girl in the mud. (Supplied)A Hutterite girl in the mud. (Supplied)

"This is one of the beautiful things that I love about colony life. Work is play and vice versa. They take their work very seriously but a lot of work is done communally. There is that idea, that even if you're doing a crappy job, you're doing it with family and friends. There's so much time for laughter and beautiful moments."

MHC Gallery at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg is opening Smith's new art exhibit, In The World But Not Of It. The opening night, September 16, will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will include a talk from Smith as well as refreshments. The exhibit will be open to the public until November 12.