When a picture editor called me at home to ask whether I could start work early Monday morning to cover the opening of the New Hope Amish School, I cringed inwardly. Not because of the pre-dawn start, but because I knew the Amish dislike being photographed, and I couldn't help but think privately that maybe the media should be leaving these folks alone.
Such thoughts are not conducive to receiving a regular paycheck in this profession, so I kept them to myself (until now) and said yes. That night, photographer Kenneth K. Lam was kind enough to drop off two long telephoto lenses that the staff shares as pool equipment, so I could get a quick start in the morning without detouring to the office. I figured I'd need the biggest one, a 10-pound 600 mm lens.
As I drove through the rolling hills of Lancaster County in the fog, I reflected that the horrific story of the fatal shooting of five Amish children at the West Nickel Mines Amish School last October deserved a follow-up. West Nickel had been razed by the Amish and the New Hope school built to replace it. The public would want to know that the Amish community was trying to move forward with the same private grace and humility that they had shown throughout the tragedy.
Police cars were stationed around the perimeter of the farm that encircled the school, the first evidence that this day was different. Then I noticed small pink "no trespassing" signs dotting the fields, like some new kind of spring bulb planted to ward off intrusive reporters and photographers.
A large media throng was already camped in a parking lot across the street from the school. Even when viewed through the 600 mm lens, the children looked distant, but this was one of the rare times that I didn't mind not getting closer to the subject. It was bad enough to know that they could see us, interlopers on a difficult day.
The children were more visible above the fence when they jumped, and the familiarity of this eternally hopeful motion was reassuring. Whenever a boy jumped to make a basket, I clicked furiously. Watching them play so naturally gave me some comfort that somehow they are managing, and it felt to me that that was what our readers needed to know.