Mennonite Village Photography exhibit features portraits taken from 1890-1940
If you’ve ever wanted to imagine yourself in the past, an exhibition of photos from around 1890 to 1940 invites you to do so, taking a selfie in front of a century-old backdrop.
This backdrop, decorated with painted curtains and frills, is clearly visible in several of the portraits made by Peter G. Hamm, who died in 1965, leaving a collection of 400 glass and film negatives. Known as the village photographer, Hamm captured early 20th-century life in his Mennonite street village of Neubergthal, now a National Historic Site.
Along with photographs by three of his contemporaries, Hamm’s work is on display in a summer exhibition titled Mennonite Village Photography at Canadian Mennonite University’s MHC Gallery.
The three dozen photos on display – some enlarged to life-size – depict various aspects of village life in these sectarian communities at a time when cameras were not household objects. These young camera enthusiasts offered their photographic services to family, friends and neighbors, also developing the images into postcard-sized photographs for a solo exhibition, said Mennonite Historic Arts Committee member Roland Sawatzky. , who organized the exhibition.
“These are villagers taking pictures for their own purposes,” said Sawatzky, curator of history at the Manitoba Museum.
Originally intended to coincide with the publication in 2020 of a book containing 91 photographs by the same photographers, the Winnipeg exhibition was postponed for two years due to restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. The photos were briefly exhibited in 2020 at Altona’s Gallery in the Park.
Chosen from hundreds of images, the photographs paint a picture of the life, death, agricultural practices and recreation of Mennonite villages on both sides of the Red River in the early 20th century.
“In terms of Manitoba history, this is a really good look at a sectarian group at a time of great change,” Sawatzky said, referring to expanding agricultural markets, increased mobility and the adoption of technology.
The move adds interest to the exhibit, providing an unexpected behind-the-scenes perspective as people posed in their Sunday best, said Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk, photo historian and newly appointed director of MHC Gallery.