Running to Stand Still – The latest images of Norris Hall
The Image Factory Art Foundation’s latest exhibit Springfield – An Amish Settlement by a veteran Belizean photojournalist Norris Hall is a somewhat strange plunge into a sort of sublime world. Our last meaningful collaboration with Hall came with the publication of his early 1970s photo book on George Price, a catalogue of vibrant photos the he had captured following the then Premier as Price crossed the nation bringing the message of Independence to the people.
This new exhibition delivers a vivid point of view on what Hall calls “the simple life in harmony with nature and working the soil.” What makes such a show significant to our cultural space is that it serves as a sharp contradiction to our regular modern gaze driven by the media-tech status quo life of cell phones, television, and the Internet. According to Hall, “unlike the Mennonites, however, they are averse to change and to adapting modern technology. There are no Amish left in Europe. Most of them live in the United States of America, mainly in Pennsylvania. They are scattered in communities all over Central America. They first came to settle here in Belize in the early 1970s.”
Hall spent his career with the Government of Belize mainly as Information Officer and as Chief Information Officer. Over the years he managed to amass an impressive body of photographic work. Now in retirement his passion has turned to some of the same themes of his working life, the central one being the documentation of Belizean life through photography.
This latest effort is a major accomplishment because the Amish are very conservative and value privacy. For Hall to gain photo access is a gift to our national cultural treasury. As the young people like to say “noh tek we lightly,” and many times we live as if there is not a rich manifestation of humanity in our mist. The surprise that comes when looking at these new Norris Hall images turn quickly to reverence and respect for the life of people who see work and nature as inextricable values that must be kept sacred at any cost.
Hall made a conscious decision to shoot this suite of images with 35 mm film and in black and white. I respect that. Artists and photographers today seem distracted by new technologies sometimes losing sight of the power of certain older forms. In so choosing Hall has brought a special synchronicity of pre-digital photography with a certain tradition of life.
The most powerful image in the exhibit is the one with four girls in traditional bonnets. It is in their “unusual” dress that we are plunged into a vicarious position in reflecting on the photo not aware of the limits of looking, but essentially compelled to confront an anthropological frisson that Hall has placed before us.The Belize Times