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Saturday, 02 June 2012


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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 - http://www.pbase.com/image/134915019/original

"efficient and inexpensive, but are somewhat lacking in charm" - one of the best expressions I read lately. And sadly, so true for most of what we do now...

Despite being born and raised in the city, barns have been one of my favorite photographic subjects for years. I can't say for certain what draws me to them, but I don't spend too much time trying to figure those things out. I just know I always enjoy finding a new old barn to photograph, and here in the mountains of western NC I've had the privilege of documenting quite a few that no longer exist.

Alumi-Barn looks like it was designed by accountants. Our national obsession with "make it cheap, make it bland" is like a glacier slowly devouring the landscape. I'd write more, but I must be going to the regional concrete plaza where the grocery store, office supply retailer and oil change shop look like identical siblings.

I'm told that round barns are even more rare. We have at least one in eastern Ontario.

Never could nail focus on the "broad side" of one of those things...

Make sure you photograph it on film.

Amen brother, this has been on my mind for a long time. My childhood memories are disappearing very quickly.

Farmers would generally refer to that modern steel building as a shed rather than a barn. And they are not inexpensive (what is today?).
They are also disappearing rapidly here in Ontario, and the new buildings are not in any way aesthetic, except in a utilitarian sense. Those old buildings were built with a craftsmanship and pride that doesn't exist today. There are probably few people around who could actually build one.
They can be rather difficult to photograph. Often they are surrounded by a clutter of old machinery and other debris. The photo you show is exceptional in this regard where the barn clearly stands out from its surroundings. Its also a very interesting old barn in shape and texture.


I have not been to Wisconsin in many a moon. One of my classmates at Sun Prairie HS (class of 70) made a business of rehabbing old barns into upscale homes with unlimited character. He had a real passion for saving and re purposing old structures. I have not seen or heard from him in many years. With luck maybe he is sitting on his patio looking out at the rolling green pasture lands of central Wisconsin.

I remember back in the '50's I was in the Army at Ft. Harrison. One Sunday my room-mate, a native Indianan, and I went for a drive, and everytime I saw an old barn, I stopped to take a picture of it. After about an hour, he said "why are you so fascinated by barns that are falling down, you never take a picture of a good barn?" I then realized that maybe I was hurting his feelings by concentrating on the bad side of things.

It is not just Barns.... It is whole Towns ~ Landmarks, Buildings, Old Fencing.. Time is a Rough Customer on Man-Made Relics... In the last 10 years, 10% of the old places in my photos have either disappeared, changed or been blown away by a tornado. This really is our responsibility, the souls who come after us will really enjoy the time and gasoline we have spent to save a snapshot of our time.

You inspired me to get off my dead arse and add a few frames to my flickr page twelve of which are of local barns.


Actually, I think that all the steel barn is lacking is appeal to our nostalgia. The design is simple, clean and spare -- and it's not falling down like the red one is.

Please, no, I beg of you...no more cliche photos of dilapidated barns, farm houses, or of that damn Bodie ghost town! Google finds over 19 million already on hand. Surely you can find one you like.

Shoot out at old Shaniko

I wonder why the NY Times reported this?

That's a... Barn!?!? I thought those were for tractor trailers, SUVs- the McMansions of garages.

PS- I take it they're animal non-friendly?

"Modern steel barns are efficient and inexpensive, but are somewhat lacking in charm compared to traditional forms."

Yes. And this can apply to other structures. I enjoy photographing these changes.

In the Sierras in California, a rustic wooden flume was replaced by a modern steel pipe:



And an old wooden water tank, by a modern steel one:



Shameless plug: May I recommend my book Rock City Barns: A Passing Era?

Signed copies are available directly from me at djphoto@vol.com.

Hi Maggie, maybe the reason they became clichés was a result of their iconic nature? I'm not a barn-hugger by any means, and I don''t believe that we should keep and treasure things just because they are old. However photography is not just about originality and art.

Some old barns are very un-traditional!

This one was made from an abandoned church.

And this one was once a one-room schoolhouse.

Both of them are in the rural southeast corner of Allen County, Indiana. I think that both have been used as barns for decades.

>Modern steel barns are efficient and inexpensive, but are somewhat lacking in charm compared to traditional forms.

My nominee for Understatement of the Year.

Many photographers have benefitted from the former Barn Cycle:

1) Build a barn.
2) Once barn is finished, do absolutely nothing to maintain it.
3) Barn collapses.
4) Build a barn.

I'll miss that.

Kenneth Tanaka writes,

"Please, no, I beg of you...no more cliche photos of dilapidated barns, farm houses, or of that damn Bodie ghost town! Google finds over 19 million already on hand. Surely you can find one you like."

I recall years ago when I first visited Bodie and surrounding areas. A friend said before I left, "Certainly you aren't going to photograph in Bodie. Everyone else has already done it!"

My response: "Yes, but I haven't done it!"

For me, the actual photographing experience -- just being there with the camera -- gives as much pleasure as looking at the photographs later.

I added that since she had already seen so many, I wouldn't bother showing her mine!

Anyway, I enjoy making my own little portfolios of trips. Much more meaningful than looking at someone elses.


And the insides can be as fascinating as the outside...

"Hi Maggie, maybe the reason they became clichés was a result of their iconic nature? I'm not a barn-hugger by any means, and I don''t believe that we should keep and treasure things just because they are old. However photography is not just about originality and art."

Hey Richard, you're not wrong and at this point you'd be documenting a disappearing way of life, or at least its bones.

But remember, I was talking about Art School, twenty-odd years ago, when we were all about originality and art. Or so we hoped, in our art-student-y way.

"I'm told that round barns are even more rare."

That's because it's impossible to find a corner to pee in.

Sometimes other old gear basks in the late sunlight aside the barn that used to shade them when they weren't so old:


Large timber barns are rare about here, in the North of Scotland. I suspect the (infamous) dampness would rapidly rot them, and then the high winds would flatten them.

There are plenty of other things disappearing around about us that may be worthy of recording. As a "Blipper" (posting a photo-a-day on http://www.blipfoto.com ), I'm regularly looking for local themes and subjects. One of the current series is of the old ornate roof towers/vents and other features that are mostly being neglected, such as:

OK, if you absolutely insist on having some deep personal experience re-creating such a howling cliche as a picture of a barn can you at least paint or draw it? At least such an effort will afford you some opportunity to inflict your own stamp on the image (even it's only your signature) and requires a couple of calories of effort. Perhaps even a nice needlepoint rendering of a sway-back termite diner? A very relaxing undertaking I'm told.

Make hay while the sun shines.

Consider James Ravilious's project. And don't do it for yourself, or for art. Do it for posterity.

I have an ongoing series of Orphan Buildings of which a beautiful old barm is a star member. There is nothing wrong with well maintained ones either. If they are not sufficiently original for Ken Tanaka maybe he needs to stop looking at photographs because damm near everything has been photographed time and again except maybe the back side of the moon and I can't get there in a Ford pickup. I still enjoy photographing them and many others seem to enjoy looking at my pictures, good enough for me. Some of mine are on 500px/TerryLetton

There are some farmers in Iowa who have modified old barns to house modern machinery. It is one way to save these lovely old structures.
The biggest builder of modern steel buildings is Morton Buildings and if you write them a big enough check they will build you a horse barn that is flat out beautiful.


I seem to recall about 10 or 15 years ago seeing a book of black and white barn photographs, literally titled "Before They Are All Gone" (or something like that). I think Morley Baer and David Plowden both did barn books. Bernd and Hilla Becher did grain elevators (much more interesting in my opinon), but I'm not sure they ever did barns. Has anyone done outhouses? Probably too late now.

These look beautiful, and not cliched because we don't have that style of barn here. Ours are more organically ramshackle.


But I can see this kind of shot would fall into the disused funpark or (sorry) disappearing drive in cinema genre where it is almost a reflex to take the picture but a different choice of subject might be better. Just a step above photo of your own shadow or homeless lying on the street. But maybe it will be different once they are all gone. The historical importance will begin to eclipse to cliche. Anyway. Nice barns.

Hi Maggie - sorry if that sounded personal! It's just my antennae start waggling when I hear views about photography coming from the art world. Of course, those views about barn photos are quite appropriate in that context, but my worry is that "photography" often seems to get tarred with the same brush, when the medium has so many different faces.



Ken Tanaka's remarks here are a sad reminder to me of how little respect that many photographers, even professionals like him, have for photography. Perhaps we should let his clients know that photography doesn't even a couple calories of effort, so that they can pay him appropriately.

On the upside, I'd quite like a chance to photograph barney rubble.

Reminds me of a Monday when I passed a beautiful. decaying building on my way to work. I made plans to photograph the building the next weekend. Come Saturday, I dragged out the 8x10 with some color film in the holders and drove to the building...only to find it gone. Evidently, it had been demolished that previous week. Seize the moment!

Since the word "originality" is found several times here I think it's worth noting that originality is not solely a property of the subject of your lens. Originality is at least equally, and often predominantly, a property of how you capture your subject. The monotonous literalism of those millions of barn shots I linked earlier is what creates the cliche. I came, I saw, I clicked...usually in the middle of the day. I'm not suggesting that you strain to be distinctive with this subject (or any other). Just interrogate yourself more deeply to determine what you really find interesting about this subject.

Case in point: William Christenberry has made much of his art careerphotographing banal, dilapidated structures usually in the midst of rural areas. But the message and vision he attempts to portray is how these objects record time and ultimately become dissolved by time. He has revisited many of the same sites, near his boyhood home, to photograph the same buildings from the same POV for years, thus creating bodies of work that really ignites viewers' imaginations.

Paul Butzi's comment no.3 is especially enlightening. I live in a small village not far from the county seat, a town of about 7 thousand. A few years ago, the local "fine arts society" had a showing of local artists in a beautifully restored 1903 theater. I was invited to show some photographs, so I did.
I saw truly expressive paintings by Deb, the woman behind the teller cage at the bank. Though I chatted with her every week, I had no idea she made beautiful paintings. Wood carvings as detailed and expressive as any I have ever seen, done by Ron whom I worked with backstage at the theater, with no idea of his skill.
At that community art show I learned the deeper value of "Art" which has nothing to do with provenance or market value. Real people living it. Wow.

@ Chris Crawford: Ah, actually you have many images on your site that illustrate the kind of personal views of banal scenes I suggested in my latest post here. Images in your "Santa Fe 2011" collection particularly caught my attention because you've distilled many of your subjects to essential observations. They're also frankly-lensed. Nicely done.

Re: my disrespect for photography? Well, perhaps if you knew more about me you'd think otherwise. ;-)

"I don't get these painters and the old baaarns... why can't they paint some *nice* house?"

I should probably mention that I first found out about MCAD's barn photo attitudes when I presented a small batch of B&W photos of an abandoned barn that was just up the road from my folks' farm to my Photo One class.

"Hey, naive farm kid, what were you thinking?"

"Um, that old barn was cool?"

"Let me explain something..."

In the UK, our traditional barns have long since been converted to houses for rich people. They're not so photogenic with sliding glass doors and a 911 parked outside.

That lead in image is really, really bad. It seems to have so many issues. HDR gone wrong, off alignment, etc. I'm sure you can easily find and do better. Ugh!

And yes, the cheap steel sheds have even entered urban areas, it's a absolute blight on our visual sense. Why can't they make them interesting? And why would anyone ever build one?


Neither of those photos is mine. Found 'em on the web.


"Insightful evisceration" - thank you for that Mr. Butzi.

"...[T]he cheap steel sheds have even entered urban areas, it's a[n] absolute blight on our visual sense. Why can't they make them interesting? And why would anyone ever build one?"

Because they're easily repurposed (prefab) and durable. A.k.a. "Quonset huts," ex-US military, WWII vintage. I used to live in a house with a half-arched roof from one. Went to PE classes in one. Our high school gym though renovated retained its old name: Hangar.

Rows of quonset-type hangars are still in use at Tan Son Nhat airport (seen from a taxiing plane window). Some clad with 4-in. thick reincorced concrete presumably with the original G.I. corrugated arched roof panels left in as permanent forms.

They ain't barns. But they have their own "vernacular architecture" charm a la Robert Venturi.

Dear Mike,

Thanks, again!

At the risk of pushing my luck, here's the link to the non-working ("no follow") link "vernacular architecture" in my comment:

HTML page-


JPG file -



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