Intentional Observation: Mennonites in flip-flops
1 July 2009 269 Comments
“A little bit of dissonance is really required to have something
that will hold our attention for a longer period of time.”
– Pete Pinnell
Two things in the past few months prompted me to ponder the idea of contrast.
First off, I’ve taken note this year of the mennonites (at least that’s what we assume they are) shopping at our local Walmart. I’ve long had a fascination with Amish (and old order Mennonite, thus) cultures, probably in large part because of what seems to be their slower paced, more relationship and community based lifestyles. Another part of my interest almost certainly stems from the culture’s seeming affirmation of working with your hands.
There are two observations I’ve made with respect to contrast in observing the local mennonites. First of all, the men dress in such a way that you can’t pick them out of a crowd: Boots, jeans and t-shirts, but you know they are mennonite because of the lady on their arm donning a modest handmade dress, with a bonnet or cap in her hair.
Secondly, the women’s more conservative dress is often at odds with their footwear. I’ve seen them wearing tennis shoes for years now, but it was only a few months ago I saw some of them wearing flip-flops for the first time. This wonderfully jarring discrepancy scrawled a grin on my face that lasted all the way into the parking lot. The nearly neon flip-flops next to pale blue, floral, handmade dresses worked for me in light of Pinnell’s quote at the top of this post, and apparently work for mennonites too. Brightly colored synthetic footwear is simply at odds with the common (mis)conceptions harbored by those of us not immersed in that culture.
I wanted to take a picture with my cameraphone, but abstained from bothering the young ladies. Instead I searched through Flickr and found the fantastic image above, taken by Jizzon, showing a group of mennonite women, some in bright colored flip-flops (click on the image to go to the Flickr page where you can enlarge it). The clothing contrast in Jizzon’s photograph isn’t as stark as it usually is in the Siloam Springs’ Walmart. The girls in his capture are wearing much brighter handmade dresses than I’ve ever seen the group in Northwest Arkansas don.
If you’re craving even more paradox, look at this image of two mennonites in dresses and bonnets on a jet ski.
Secondly, after looking through an album posted by a photographer friend, Aus10, on Facebook I commented as follows:
Interesting to me how so much portraiture (including wedding photography) in the past five years or so has been about creating contrast — or so it seems to me as an observer. The well-groomed subjects are placed in rough and rustic environments: Against decrepit buildings with peeling paint, along derelict railway tracks covered in weeds etc. Seems to me this is a new trend for the media, and one that I like (unlike this everybody jump up in the air phenomenon). Is my observation correct in your professional opinion? And can you talk about why you think this is the case, if you think my assessment is correct?
The photographer’s reply was more or less to say that the high school seniors, in the case of the album I responded to, see their friends’ photos or advertisements for Urban Outfitters and want the same thing. Regardless of these teen’s, um, less than intellectual desire for this aesthetic, I must reiterate that I think it works and works well.
My own senior picture was from one of those gimmicky old-time photo rooms (which is what I wanted it to be, although mom had me submit a color image from a $10 Sears sitting for the actual yearbook.) However, I would have liked something akin to this popular contrasty style if I would have thought it was worth it for my parents to spend $400 (I’m sure it’s much more nowadays) for proper senior photographs.