Larry Towell photographed the migrant Old Colony Mennonites in rural Ontario and Mexico between 1990 and 1999. The resulting black and white photographs—accompanied by an extensive text drawn from diary notes and "the silt of the memory"—formed Towell’s landmark book, The Mennonites, first published in 2000. This revised and updated second edition revisits the project and includes 40 previously unpublished photographs.

The Mennonites, originating in 16th century Holland, are non-conformists and have traditionally separated themselves from the world by living in settlements, or colonies, set apart from society at large. This project focuses on the Old Colony sect, the most conservative and insular sect, engaged in an ongoing battle with modernism which seeks to change and absorb them. Rather than compromise their way of life, Mennonites have continually been forced to migrate around the world to maintain their freedom to live as they choose.

Larry Towell first encountered the Mennonites near his home in Ontario, Canada andfriendship with them gained him unique access to their communities.

‘In 1989, I discovered them in my own back yard, landhungry and dirt poor. They came looking for work in the vegetable fields and fruit orchards of Lambton, Essex, Kent and Haldimand-Norfolk Counties. I liked them a lot because they seemed otherworldly and therefore completely vulnerable in a society in which they did not belong and for which they were not prepared. Because I liked them, they liked me, and although photography was forbidden, they let me photograph them. That’s all there was to it.’

The result of this friendship was a unique and tender portrait of an often misunderstood and peripheral community. Towell’s texts chronicle—over many miles and seasons—the details of the experiences of those he encountered, the harsh pressures wrought by both nature, the economy and society, and the battle to keep the drive of change at bay. Even when first published in 2000, the images appeared estranged from the contemporary world, and this new edition, with previously unseen images, remains as poignant.

‘When a Mennonite loses his land, a bit of his human dignity is forfeited; so is his financial solvency. He becomes a migrant worker, an exile who will spend the rest of his life drifting among fruit trees and vegetable vines, dreaming of owning his own farm some day.’


Larry Towell (born 1953, Canada), was the son of a car repairman and grew up in a large family in rural Ontario. He studied visual arts at Toronto’s York University where he was given a camera and taught how to process black and white film. Following volunteer work in Calcutta in 1976 he began to photograph and write. Upon his return to Canada he taught folk music to support himself and his family, and became a freelance photographer and writer in 1984, focusing on the dispossessed, exile and peasant rebellion when he completed testimonial projects on the Nicaraguan Contra war and the relatives of the disappeared in Guatemala. His first published magazine essay, Paradise Lost, exposed the ecological consequences of the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. In 1996, Towell completed a project based on ten years of reportage in El Salvador, followed the next year by a major book, Then Palestine. With the help of the inaugural Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, he finished a second highly acclaimed book on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in 2005, and in 2008 released the award-winning The World From My Front Porch, a project on his own family in rural Ontario where he sharecrops a 75-acre farm. Afghanistan was released in 2014 based on six years of reportage on that war.

Larry is also a gifted musician and song writer, author of five music/poetry CDs, and a soon to be released triple vinyl LP of original ballads entitled The Man I Left Behind.

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