Book captures colony life memories

Hutterite leaves colony to follow his dreams

Kelly Hofer’s book, Hutterite, invites visitors into the quiet world of the Green Acres colony in southern Manitoba.

Young and old members are captured performing farm tasks and sharing in family life.

“It genuinely is about our culture,” Hofer said. “With this book, I am trying to elevate Hutterites. They deserve a lot more.”

As he combed through more than 140,000 photos dating back to the first images he shot at age 11, he originally considered showing oddities but settled on showing the magic of ordinary lives.

Now 23, the photographer launched his self-published book this month by working through Kickstarter, a website that provides a funding platform for creative projects.

He willingly shares portraits of the life he left behind at 19. That departure also gave him the courage to tell the world he was an artist and gay.

“I was that weird kid,” he said from the loft art studio that he shares with 11 Calgary artists.

Art was not discouraged on the colony but talented youth were encouraged to channel that ability to support life on the colony.

“They don’t go out of their way to encourage art but they don’t squash it,” Hofer said.

His father was principal of his school and kept a point-and-shoot camera at home. Kelly used it to shoot the farm and landscape and later added portraits.

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In this age of cellphones and the internet, he said it is harder to suppress the urge to record life’s moments through pictures.

“Everyone has a cellphone. You can’t really say no to cameras. Even the minister in our colony was very against me shooting photos but he had a cellphone and you could see him shooting photos,” he said.

After high school, Hofer studied web design at college but his passion was photography. During that time, he was considering leaving colony life behind like his sister had. While she was visiting, they packed his belongings and he left with $300 in his pocket.

He lived with her in Calgary for a few months and she helped him get a job in electronics. He soon landed photography work.

The break from the colony tugged at his heart for a long time.

“It is a very difficult choice to make. Yes, I’m gay but it is hard to leave the culture behind,” he said.

Hofer had to be self-sufficient. Meals were no longer waiting for him and the support of his group was gone.

“Every person you know in life is on the colony,” he said.

Hofer misses the life but is no longer a believer.

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“I believe in morality but not religion.”

Repeated requests to return for a visit were refused but this year he was allowed to return for a half day for a family wedding.

His new life has taken him around the world on photo assignments and to the United States, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany and China for documentary film work.

His current work is commercial assignments, fashion, sports, portraits and some weddings.

He is also exploring his affinity for electronics and works with other artists to embed electronic sensors in clothing. Electrical sensors display when the muscles are working so activity can be monitored during general work or physical training.

Artists at his studio practise everything from three-dimensional printing to more traditional art forms.

“This is actually my colony. In this studio, we share tools, we share knowledge together and bounce ideas around. That is exactly how a colony works,” he said.

He keeps in touch with colony friends and cousins through Facebook and his parents have visited, but he sees connections loosening because their lives are so different.

“This is the last thread that is holding me to the culture … the photos I still have,” he said.

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For more information, visit www.kellyhofer.com.