Last Saturday was my day for a photographic field trip. The location at the top of my list was a site I failed to access the first time I visited. Without repeating the behaviors of some of those “stupid criminal” stories you’ve surely heard, let’s just say the site is only accessed through private land which is surrounded by a fence, or two, or more… My first attempt resulted in dozens of blackberry brambles and a lecture from a very astute neighbor complete with threats of notifying the police. With my second attempt, I did a little bit more thorough homework and developed a better plan with the help of some aerial photography. Never underestimate the power of the internet and the determination if a stubborn, middle aged artist.
The site is not one an average person would likely be aware of. It is abandoned and in serious decay – which is part of the reason it had so much appeal to me. I was sure I could get some terrific photos. In the process of taking photos, here’s what I discovered about myself:
- I am not an adrenaline junkie
- Breaking the law is scary
- Some abandoned buildings are extremely creepy
- The most logical reasons for not doing something do not occur to me until it is too late
- I still have it in me to scale an 8 foot chain link fence
- Ascending that same fence resulted in bruises in very odd places
- Fear of getting caught results in a much firmer resolve to leave quickly and quietly
Was it worth it – absolutely. Do I have some amazing shots? Not so much. Why was it worth it then? Probably because of the goal setting and planning involved. Would I do it again? Read on…
I am not sure why I like photos of abandoned buildings and barns, but I do. Perhaps the fascination with barns comes from growing up in the Midwest. But if that gives you the impression that I grew up on a farm, you would be incorrect. I lived in the suburbs and the only toiling I did in the dirt was in our school pea patch that was used to demonstrate a variety of things like team building, the value of hard work and the development of sales skills.
But in the Midwest, barns are everywhere. And to me – barns are romantic and for the love, I do not know why that word comes to mind. Maybe I think about a barn being an art studio where I can set up enormous playgrounds for paint and looms and all the crafting supplies my heart desires. It’s funny though, the idea of a barn also brings to mind isolation because to have a barn means a farm which means land which in turn means living away from the masses. Barns are a part of a farm and farms are families, and to some degree, part of a community – think barn raising from days gone by. Barns are also beautiful, monolithic structures, often in red, which provide a sometimes dazzling contrast to the typical brown, green and gold colors of the surrounding plain.
But there is a flipside.
An abandoned barn is almost the complete opposite of all the attributes above. And unfortunately, it’s not difficult to find abandoned barn to photograph. This was the second part of my Saturday. Dog seated in the back of the car, we headed into the more rural areas of the county. As a side note, I have to say how thrilling it is to have a car and phone both with GPS capabilities. I am able to follow my hunches and take a right turn here or a left turn there without any real concern for where I am. Once I have explored or photographed what interests me, I simply navigate “home” and away I go – no more messy maps or stopping to ask directions.
On this particular afternoon, I found three abandoned properties with barns and the feelings I experienced while photographing these properties were very different than my first site of the day. I think the most overwhelming of all the feelings was a sense of loss. At some point in time, these properties represented the epitome of someone’s dream. One of the properties had a tiny one story house but an enormous, three story barn (see photograph above). There were bedraggled, untended fruit trees in the yard closest to the house and fallow fields alongside the barn. The blackberries had claimed nearly half of the rear of the barn and they were clearly working on enveloping the sides and moving up to the second story. While the property had not been vandalized, it had clearly seen better days. There was a large delivery truck with the hood propped open and debris all over the ground. Several doors to the barn were either open or removed. But you could clearly see the glory of its former self.
The barn had custom made metal signs on the interior doors –Tack Room, Milk Room, and Team Room. There was an obvious sense of pride with the hanging of these signs. At the top of the barn was a dormer of sort that you can see in the photo. Some of the equipment was still there along with remnant paints and oils and spray cans. There was a make-shift building hobbled together in front of the barn which was a little distracting. Where the barn had terrific, weathered and somewhat cared for siding, the lean-to was made from crappy particle board. This same farm had a small hydroplane elevated on a wooden stand so that it was accessible and easy to work on. It was a very interesting object to find on a farm and to contemplate that someone walked away from a pursuit that might have been a passion, folly, or direct jab in the eye of all things ordinary, was overwhelmingly sad.
What does it take to walk away from your dream? Obviously, it could have been any number of things from tragedy and despair to hopelessness or indifference. There’s a certain part of me that wanted to snap up the property and just make it right. A lot of elbow grease and TLC and the property could have been brought back to its former glory. I really wanted to make a difference in that moment. And maybe that’s the reason I am frankly driven to capture images of barns. I know in my heart that there’s a story and a link to the past. And maybe by bringing the barn back to life, the dreams and lives of the former owners will be given a small little nod and in that nod, the recognition that they matter and are not forgotten.