inside the fairytale world of a canadian woodland commune

Between 2002 and 2010, Iris Andraschek photographed members of an anti-capitalist agricultural community in Ontario.

by Emily Manning
09 February 2016, 3:15pm

Iris Andraschek enjoys working on long-term projects. Since studying at Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts in the mid 80s, the artist, photographer, and illustrator has amassed an archive of images that document people with a special relationship to plants and gardens. Often, her subjects' intense agricultural curiosities intersect with another of the Austrian photographer's points of focus: capturing the daily rituals of youth communities -- the mechanics of alternative lifestyles. "Everyday life and staging scenes within it fascinate me as well as the boundaries between reality and fiction in constructed images," says Iris.

Her new book, Wait Until the Night Is Silent, marks a powerful merging of these photographic obsessions. While completing a residency in Durham -- a Canadian town with less than 3,000 inhabitants -- Iris met Claudia, an uninhibited forest dweller. Claudia introduced her to a utopian commune that had been drawing families since the 1970s, when a German farmer set out to improve the region's quality of food. "A community has formed over the decades which is not only linked through conscious nutrition, but has founded a school, a gallery, a sharing circle, plus a health food store and share a wide range of activities," Andraschek says.

First shot in 2002 during the residency and again in 2010, Wait Until the Night Is Silent depicts the commune's women through a powerful blend of documentary photography and ethereal fairytale. Andraschek captures the central role nature plays in the community, but also shows her subjects in the domestic spaces they've created after rejecting conventional capitalism, allowing them agency to author their own representation against the breathtaking backdrop of the Canadian countryside. We caught up with Iris to find out more.

How did you first become interested in photography?
I come from a family of photographers -- my grandfather had a studio in a small town in Austria. I absorbed this photography, so to speak, with my mother's milk and I got my first SLR at the age of 12. She was a good tool for me during adolescence, working as a generator for my dreams and projections.

Tell us about these women and their community.
In 2002, I lived in Durham, Ontario -- 100 miles northwest of Toronto -- during a four month residency. I soon noticed the special solidarity and camaraderie within a certain group of local people. Originally, I had planned to continue my series of portraits of people who have an individualistic approach to landscape, garden, and agriculture. One of the main protagonists, Claudia, and I took long walks through the woods; I photographed her while she was collecting wild herbs. I also started photographing the women whom I had befriended or who attracted my attention. Some of them emigrated from Europe to Canada with their children -- single mothers in search of a less precarious, dogged, complicated life which they had found in Durham. I noticed the two young women in the series -- teenagers at the time -- daily when they went to take the school bus.

What are some of the community's values or beliefs?
This community forms no municipality in the traditional sense, but a loose confederation that relates in a very conscious way to the current society and has chosen a kind of ideal, social, anti-capitalist way of life. Living in conscious harmony with nature has attracted people of various backgrounds again and again over the years. The highly social aspect of this community is also worth mentioning. People who are in precarious situations -- stuck in trouble -- are supported. Responsibility is taken for them and help is provided to try to improve their situation. So, people who were marginalized in standard society can lead a more dignified and free life.

The images have a really ethereal quality despite featuring more chaotic elements like the clutter of home objects or wood.
For me, it was important to make a reference to reality. The locations -- for example, a private house, full of dresses and a lake where they celebrate their annual swap meet -- were chosen by me. The pictures reflect the people as actors who play their roles well, but at the same time, play themselves: self-determined and decisive. The locations also embody these same qualities. They embody the setting, ornamentation, nature, wilderness, social spheres - they are located nearby and are important locations in real life, outside of the series. The quality of the photographs should reflect the simultaneity of figure, staging, romanticizing and symbolization. I wanted to photograph them together in their vulnerability, which is somehow mine as well.

Are these women empowered by their community?
In many photos, the women are naked, so I've been repeatedly asked if the women in this community are often nude. This is not the case and the scenes have arisen from the fact that one of the women works as a nude model; it had more to do with Claudia's naturalness and comfort with her body. But in Canada, nudity is taboo, so we staged a kind of rebellious game. We were, in a sense, making fun of the double standards. I think that all the women involved considered themselves to be emancipated; being clothed or unclothed was not analyzed. But I would say one can find their place in this community and will be strengthened by it, whether woman or man.

What do you hope people take from this book?
The same admiration and enthusiasm for the photographed women that I have, and inspiration.


Text Emily Manning

wait until the night is silent
​iris andraschek