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Photographer Dina Litovsky spoke to us about her work photographing the Amish community holidaying in the warmer climate in Sarasota, Florida
by Amy Walker. Photographs: Dina Litovsky @dina_litovsky
Among the fastest-growing faith groups on the continent, North America’s Amish and Mennonite populations are largely known for eschewing the trappings of modern society in favour of rustic lifestyles. But in Pinecraft, a small neighbourhood in Sarasota, Florida, and vacation hotspot for traditionalists, there are no farms or horse-drawn black buggies.
Instead, when families bus in during the winter months to escape the harsh weather conditions in northern states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, the sleepy town becomes a mini metropolis.
Out on the bungalow-lined streets, visitors trundle past on converted tricycles or in golf caddies, while others catch tans on sun-drenched porches.
At sundown, young women in long dresses and white bonnets play volleyball on the beach as their husbands watch on and cheer. On Saturday evenings, both the Amish and Mennonite communities gather with local Florida residents to put on the local fish-fry.
Before hiring a Pinecraft Airbnb (another sign of encroaching modernity) in February 2018, photographer Dina Litovsky had barely come into contact with either of the communities. Her candid photos, taken without flash, try to capture the juxtaposition of them in an environment often not seen by outsiders.
“I wanted to avoid portraits and focus on how they come into contact with each other and the modern world,” says Litovsky, adding that her subjects were largely accommodating. “I expected people to be somewhat hostile towards the camera but that wasn’t the case at all.”
The fact that everyone is outside their usual comfort zone helps, she adds – “I’m as much as a tourist as they are.”
For many, living on isolated settlements back home, vacation is also the one time of year that they communicate with other communities. Other elements of regimented lifestyles seem to slacken here too – with satellite dishes stationed in backyards and the odd mobile phone appearing in the hands of a teenager. In the evenings, the local ice-cream shop serves as a hangout for cheerful holidaymakers.
In the 1920s, Amish and Mennonite farmers searching for new pastures to turn into agricultural land descended on Sarasota. But while the soil turned out to be unsuitable for extensive celery crops, the south-western county’s climate lured families into settling here, or returning to visit for weeks or months at a time.