I have been photographing the Amish for 48 years, by 1960 I was an Air Force Historian at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska—supposedly the job required a Master’s Degree, I had a high school education and I had written hundreds of short stories some of which won prizes at the Air Force Short Story Contest. I performed the job well and got commendations for what and how I wrote. I was then sent overseas to Torrejon Air Base near Madrid where I was handed a microphone and told I was now a broadcaster, dj, newscaster, writer etc. In June of 1962 I got an overseas discharge in Madrid and started writing for Guidepost an English language magazine for the tourist that came out weekly. When I returned to the U.S. in June of 1963 I applied to the University of Iowa to finish a degree work I had started in the Air Force. Although I was an English/Creative writing major, I moonlighted as a reporter/photographer for the Gazette and finally for a whole string of other organizations like United Press International (now gone) Associated Press and a string of TV stations were I printed and wet packed photos and put them on the bus for Cedar Rapids where they were picked up by the Cedar Rapids Gazette, TV Channel 2 and 9. At the same time I was handling a course load of up to 19 hours.
I had visited with University of Chicago and then University of Iowa because they both had writing programs. University of Iowa said yes and I went there in the fall of 63, within the next few month I began hitchhiking on weekends to the Amana Colonies, to Dubuque and any other historical place, including Kalona, Iowa. By the Winter of 64 my first story on the Kalona Amish was in The Iowan Magazine.
In the coming years I was to work for Associated Press, Milwaukee Journal, and Hartford Times, in Hartford Connecticut. Transferring to the Connecticut Commission on the Arts where I spent a year photographying 300 years of Connecticut Architecture. They had hired me away from the Times because of stories I moonlighted on my own time about the barns of Connecticut.
In 1967 I finished my degree and took a summer to live in a farm house in the middle of Iowa’s Amish Country Kalona. While doing a series of travel stories for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, I mentioned to Mrs Rockhow who was the director of the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery that I had been doing a documentary on the Amish. She urged me to bring in some examples, a few weeks later I came back with 25 prints she looked at them and said: “When do you want your exhibit! It opened in December of 1967 and the Gazette devoted the full feature page to the images from it, The Quad City Times did almost the same and the first local color Television show had me on for half and hour.
Mrs Rockow insisted I go see the Cedar Rapids Art Center and the Des Moines Art Center and they both agreed to have the exhibit, then she insisted I go and apply for a grants from the Iowa Art Council and I received that in 1969 and in 1971 Jack Olds insisted I apply again for a grant to do the photographic history of the Mesquakie Indians, at the time called the Sac and Fox which they were not.
After the Connecticut Commision of the Arts ran out of money I joined the Maryknoll Fathers as a writer/photograher and you have the picture of me (a self portrait I took at a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire were I was doing a story on a priest). After a year with Maryknoll I returned to Iowa bought a house in Kalona and found that I was famous because my exhibit “The Amish People of the Soil” was shown and commented on all across the state. Local business asked me to do postcards and that was the beginning of my publishing. In 1969 thru 1971 the Veterans Administration refused to authorize my return under the GI Bill to do graduate work but finally after multiple tries they accepted the fact that switching from writing and photography, to take a correspondence course in photography, and then going back to the University to do virtually the same was not a change in career fields. After the initial color cards I had printed for Kalona I found a printer to do black and white and I began putting out the best of my work that way. During all this time I was doing freelance magazine assignments and other things for the Gazette and after doing a series of photographs of children at a Suzuki Violin recital, the organization liked them so well they decided to have a little booklet printed by a local printer, which happened to be the same one that was doing my postcards, I quickly realized that the half-tones for my postcards plus several extra photos would make a fine booklet just like the Suzuki one and I ordered 2,000 prints the flew off the shelves, I reprinted 5,000 by then I was also teaching photography for Kirkwood Community College and the Iowa City Recreation Center. Students asked so many questions that I decided during a break to write every answer and suggestions I could think of down. Two weeks later I had a 50 page of single space type and I memograped them thru the University of Iowa and gave them to students, but then others wanted to buy “A Money Saver’s Guide to Photography” and someone sent information to Mother Earth and the Whole Earth Catalog and I received these request for review copies just after I got a local printer to help me turn it into a paperback book. It came out in 1973, the success of my earlier booklet had encourage me to do a portfolio of my best Amish photos from the exhibit in 1972 and by 1974 thanks to Paul Engle who headed up the Writer’s Workshop I had a contract to do the photography for Portrait of Iowa. When Paul failed to get the text written I was given a second $5,000 and told to finish in a month which I did. When it came out in October 1974 it became an instant best seller and I had one store Wayner’s Jewelry and Bookstore they took a dozen copies and said can we return them if they don’t sell. By the end of February of 1975 they had sold 900 copies in that store alone.
My publisher for Portrait was the current head of the University of Minnesota Publishing division and after the success of the book they said thank you but any further books we do will be on Minnesota. Wallace Homestead of Des Moines that specialized in antique and collectibles books agree to publish “The Amish: A Pioneer Heritage” but said if you haven’t got Lancaster you haven’t got Amish. I agreed to give them Lancaster as long as I could highlight all the Amish communities in America. I went on a 13 day journey Canada, New York, Pennsylvania, in that state, Gray buggy, white buggy, yellow buggy and orange buggy Amish. I went on to Maryland and Deleware. In Maryland I encountered the only on Sunday Amish, came back thru Ohio and Indiana back to Iowa then down to Arthur /Arcola, Illinois, back to Iowa then down to Jamesport and on to Yoder Kansas and I delivered a finished book that I designed in time for Xmas of 1975 and on a local press I did “Children of Iowa” Wallace Homestead said they were interested in publishing any more of my books but that they would buy 1,000 copies of any books I produced. In 1976 I did Mesquakie and Proud of It” based on my photography and when I could find no Indian expert to write the text, I did much research and did it myself. First book written on them in 120 years. It was the slowest selling book I had but it is now a collectors item brining $60 or better for a hardcover that sold for $9.95. The following year at the behest of U.S. Senator Dick Clark I went to Washington selected many Farm Security Administration Photos from the 1930s and he wrote an introduction to the book. “Unknown Iowa” published in 1977.
Year after year I went on publishing new books at first under Photo-Art Gallery Publications and later under Iowa Heritage and Amish Heritage. In 1982 David Sutherland came along, “Call me Old Dave, my son is Y.D. They printed three books the first with my proper address the next two in quick succession with my Iowa Heritage Publications but there address and the next thing I know they are issuing new brochures claiming not to be the publisher of the three books they printed by all of my books. Since I had national and international registration I thought; no way can they get away with this; three attorney’s later I had two flee the state and the one I believe was bought out. The third one told me: “These people play to rough. I am not going into court for you and if you don’t give up that lawsuit now you are going to jail. Failing that they will sue you for slander and libel.
I have published in newspapers and broadsides what a Montezuma businessman said: “Three quarters of this town know those people are in the drug business. The last man that tried to get them was a deputy sheriff and he ended up sleeping with a 357 Magnum on his belly. When they threatened to kill his family he pulled out. I am not about to go into court and testify to anything against those Sutherlands they would ruin me.” This they have successfully done with me since $11,000 worth of cancelled checks and receipts could prove nothing while an unsigned typewritten sheet of paper saying I owed them $20,000 was upheld by the judge. Chief of Police of Grinnel, Iowa Jim Aherns contended he had enough evidence to convict them ten times over but could not touch them because they worked for the CIA
In order to pay the five lawyers I published a whole series of Amish Heritage Publications from 87 thru 89. But in 2004 the economy in Amish areas began to nosedive and suddenly I was making only $5,000 instead of my usual $35 to $40 thousand.
I can create images that will astound most people and get free publicity from around the world, via, Internet with Utube, Twitter and blogs. Not to mention radio, TV and newspapers.
Now I will conclude this by telling you while the last book I published was in 2003 I have continued to film and due video on Columbia Access Tv and have access to all their equipment and . . . .