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A respectful distance

By Andy NelsonStaff photographer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 16, 2006



A buggy rounds a corner in the heart of what is arguably one of the most beautiful areas of the rural United States – Amish farm country near Lancaster, Pa. This bucolic scene belies the reality surrounding the making of the photograph. The Amish people in the buggy are slowly making their way to a viewing for one of five girls killed at a school in the tiny town of Nickel Mines.

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For me, covering the tragic deaths of the Amish schoolgirls created internal conflict. When the horrors of the "outside" world crash in on the Amish community, it's news. But how do you photograph people who are culturally opposed to being photographed? I made pictures of Amish families as they made their way to mourn with the girls' families, but I did it from a discreet distance, trying to find situations I believed told the story with sensitivity, respect, and compassion. Was that enough?

Ultimately, the photographs published in the Monitor didn't show any faces, enabling us to tell the story but also be sensitive to Amish culture. Still, I am hopeful that the Amish community came to realize the importance of telling their story to a world that was sharing their sadness and that was deeply moved by their ability to forgive.

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