Manitoba

New photo book sheds light on life as a young Hutterite

Kelly Hofer, a former Hutterite turned pro shutterbug, has documented life growing up in his rural Manitoba colony in a new hardcover book for which he's starting a Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

Pictures taken by Kelly Hofer over span of a decade offer rare glimpse into life on the colony

Kelly Hofer, an ex-Hutterite from Manitoba, and now a commercial photographer living in Calgary, has documented life growing up in his rural Manitoba Hutterite colony in a new hardcover book he’s starting a Kickstarter for. (Kelly Hofer)

Kelly Hofer never thought he'd become a storyteller, so you might say he's a bit of a natural. 

The former Hutterite turned pro shutterbug has documented life growing up in his rural Manitoba colony through more than 100,000 photos that date back to when he was just 11 years old.

On Sunday, he'll publish 240 of them for the first time in a new hardcover book, for which he's starting a Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

"I never assumed or thought I would be creating a book," Hofer said, when reached by phone in Calgary.

Hofer, 23, who hails from the Green Acres Hutterite Colony in Wawanesa, Man., hopes his book will give outsiders a new insight into life as a Hutterite.

"Usually, the information that seeps out of colonies is often like the extremes of the news, and the everyday is never seen," he said.

"I just want to show the everyday culture. The everyday warmth, happiness, work, play, whatever it is."

A boy cries after being hit with a water balloon. (Courtesy Kelly Hofer)

Hofer's photos are filled with emotion and show everything from people farming to kids playing to a boy crying.

"They were not shot with an agenda," Hofer said. "That's why they're so real, so truthful."

Hofer never went to school to learn photography. Instead, he learned from trial and error. He started shooting with a point-and-shoot camera at age 11 and when he turned 15, his sister bought him his first DSLR.

Hofer said choosing the photos for his new book was no easy task.

Hofer's cousins Alice and Elaine sit in a valley field. (Courtesy Kelly Hofer)

With thousands of photos archived, he had to narrow down his favourite moments. He chose 1,000 photos, printed and hung them in his room, and then pondered over what to do with them for three months.

Kelly Hofer, 23, is an ex-Hutterite from Manitoba, and now a commercial photographer living in Calgary. He has documented life growing up in his rural Manitoba Hutterite colony in a new hardcover book. (Submitted)
"That was easily the hardest part," he said, speaking of how he would move the photos around, thinking about which stories he wanted to tell.

Hofer omitted one story from his book — his own story about being shunned from his colony for being gay is not told in detail.

"I kind of mention it but I didn't want it to be anything that would … detract from the book because ultimately, the audience for the book is a very religious crowd," Hofer said.

"I just wanted to keep the book not safe but agreeable, I suppose," he said with a laugh.

Hofer said there are many misconceptions about Hutterites he hopes his book will change. He said mainstream society could learn about how Hutterites treat their elders, communal living, and so on.

"It's a culture that I think the outside world can learn a lot from," he said.

Hofer's book will be available for order here on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Kids stand on sandbags to take a look at flood waters in the Souris River. This image is one of 240 in Kelly Hofer's new book. (Courtesy Kelly Hofer)

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