David Marvitz: How I Got Permission To Photograph The Amish

David Marvitz, who took the ice harvest photos we saw here last month, recently shared how he got permission to photograph Amish in Hazleton, Iowa. More on that below. I was also in touch with David after that post went up. He passed along another nice set of photos, this time of a young Amish fellow training a Belgian breed horse.

First, on how he got permission to take photos of his Amish friends, from a story in the Petersburg, VA Progress-Index:

How is it that Marvitz received the opportunity of a lifetime to document Amish harvesting ice?

“The Amish gentleman that cuts the ice has a daughter that runs the general store in Hazleton. One day, when I was in her store, she was talking about her dad cutting ice,” shared Marvitz. “We were friends from stopping in her store for over a year and she knew me well enough to trust me to respect their religious beliefs. She asked her Dad if he would allow me to photograph the process.

“He said he would be proud to share their lifestyle as long as I followed their rules, which he explained upon our meeting,” said Marvitz. “The kids call me the ‘pictures man’ and come running when I arrive. I feel greatly honored to be considered a friend.”

How did Marvitz feel when he received the green light?

“I knew it was special because not very many get to document the Amish lifestyle. They are very proud of their lifestyle and are willing to share it, but they are also guarded about their privacy and religious beliefs,” said Marvitz. “I have asked them several times about certain circumstances to gain their approval first.”

What about showing faces?

On occasion, the Amish request certain information not to be shared, and Marvitz always complies with their wishes. He uses a telephoto lens to stay back and out of their way.

“They are serious workers when on a mission to get a job done, and I try hard to not intrude,” said Marvitz. “When photographing the Amish, you must respect these people and their boundaries which include no face recognition. I have so many Amish farmer friends that I have gotten to know over the last five years; they all tell me they are proud of their lifestyle and family farms.”

David has taken over 10,000 photos over the past five years. There are currently three farms where he can visit and take photos at any time. I found this interesting:

“They enjoy sharing their culture but deeply request respect and honor in doing so,” said Marvitz. “They are used to seeing my van, give me the thumbs-up, and continue to go about their work.”

Even with Marvitz being there every couple of weeks and talking to them personally, they always remind him about their no face recognition rule.

There’s a good bit more to the story as well, including more on how they harvest the ice:

The ice harvesting skill passed down from generation to generation is usually utilized in January when it’s no colder than 15 degrees. Every family that receives ice sends 15 – 20 people to help with the process because they each have an ice house to fill.

“It takes about one hour to fill each ice house,” said Marvitz. “They will work for a day at each pond.”

Marvitz’s friend designed his own ice cutting tool which includes a buzz saw with a Honda gasoline motor.

David’s friend told him that “this year they only had one guy fall in,” but it was just “a cold dip but no harm.”

Horse Training Photos 

So that said, now here we have a set of photos from David which do show a recognizable face.

David explains this exception regarding these photos he took last month of one of his young Amish friends:

I was in Hazleton, Iowa and my friend was training an awesome Belgium so I got some images. Lots of the Amish men under 23 years earn their money by training horses. This is one of my friends that I first photographed about 5 years ago as he was training. He is hired to train them from all over the USA. He’s one of the best (two of the best drives of the Budweiser hitch are from Hazleton).

When he is training a horse, it is almost impossible to photograph him working without showing his face. Amish understand this and will allow pictures including faces during a working time as long as they are NOT isolated close-ups.

Great photos. Here’s David’s Facebook page where you can find more.

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    1. Photograph the Amish people and horse training photo

      I’m so impressed. Nice photos. Hefty horses. I wonder with so many horse and buggy traveling on same roads who cleans the manure left on the roads and wondered who grades the roads during winter with snow and rain that causes puddles or pot holes on dirt roads.

      1. I generally don’t think it gets cleaned up in these rural areas, but in some places local authorities have asked/required Amish to do so.

      2. Romain S.

        Poop bag

        With a friend, we do a lot of work on horseback and buggy rides for tourists, the city asked us to put a poop bag between the horse and the buggy. Before, people used to rush to pick up the horse droppings, now they prefer to pay a fortune for a bag of fertilizer in the garden stores??!!!…

    2. Bert

      photos of amish

      erik when in wisconsin in addition to my colt starting training im also the trainers videographer, photographer and driver for him and his family

      1. Neat – do you publish the video you take anywhere online?

        1. Bert

          video publishing

          yes i do its on my my facebook page and on diamond s performance horses

          page that i manage for my teacher

    3. Pat Monti

      Nice Article

      Erik, nice article; thanks so much for sharing!

      1. Gladly, and hope we’ll have some more photos from David in the not too distant future.

    4. Bert


      the manure is biodegradable so it degrades quickly in the summers from what ive seen in tx new mexico montana and wisconsin