All over the American Midwest, traditional barns are disappearing at a furious pace. The New York Times reported this morning that in the State of Iowa alone, 1,000 old barns are demolished every year.
Modern steel barns are efficient and inexpensive, but are somewhat lacking in charm compared to traditional forms.
So you know that old barn you've been meaning to take a few pictures of, next time you pass by? Don't wait too long.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Tom Robbins: "You're right about not waiting too long, the old relics are often here today and gone tomorrow things. This old steel barn was just a pile of scrap two weeks after I took its picture."
Featured Comment by Maggie Osterberg: "Wow, when I was at MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art and Design), back in the 1980s, the general consensus of what was the ultimate cliché in photography was a black-and-white photograph of a dilapidated barn. I guess it's like Belloc said to Indy in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, 'Bury it in the sand for 1,000 years and it becomes priceless.'"
Mike replies: I have to confess that barns are part of that large class of things I enjoy looking at but almost never photograph. The exception was a barn I found years ago with a giant mural of Raphael's painting of Baldassare Castiglione on one end of it. Weird. But I didn't take a good picture of it—maybe I just didn't have enough practice photographing barns.
Featured Comment by Paul Butzi: "I'm foursquare behind the idea of photographing barns before they are destroyed, and I agree that old style barns are a vanishing part of the U.S. landscape.
"Tip #1: Please, folks, respect private property laws and don't trespass when you do it. Those of us who photograph in rural areas already have a problem because of photographers whose bad behavior has made farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents hate all photographers.
"And if you haven't read the codes/statutes regarding trespass in the jurisdiction where you're photographing, I assure you you don't actually know what the rules are. So do a little research and find out, first. It's not that much work, and you'll make friends instead of enemies.
"Tip #2: Take a small portfolio with you, with some of your photographs in it. That way, when the farmer asks why you want to make a photograph of his (whatever), you can show him photos. Trust me, the farmer will get it.
"Tip #3: While you're talking with the person who comes out to ask you what the hell you're doing, don't make the mistake of assuming that you're the smartest/most artistic/most articulate/best-educated person in the conversation. I once got an insightful evisceration of my portfolio from a farm owner who went through the portfolio while standing in dirty overalls and fouled muck boots and balancing the portfolio on a fence post. She then gave me great advice on other places to photograph. And she recognized me and asked about my work when I ran into her at a show of her wonderful paintings at a gallery about six months later."
Featured Comment by Peter Marquis-Kyle: "This prompts me to mention one of my favourite photography books. It's by John Szarkowski (yes, he was a photographer as well as a curator and critic), called Mr. Bristol's Barn: With Excerpts from Mr. Blinn's Diary (New York: Abrams, 1997). The photographs are black and white, calm and nicely lit, and illuminated by Szarkowski's thoughtful essay about the pattern of history and quotes from a nineteenth century farmer's diary. There are so many layers of meaning here that it is a very satisfying piece of work."