The Round Barn

I was checking out posts that were tagged with barns and came across a great one by Guy Harvey. Guy had been driving on the back roads of Iowa and decided to check out a barn he had visited a few times previously. He took some beautiful photos of the barn and other out buildings. He also described how the woman who owned it was welcoming and made his day warm and wonderful. You can check his post out here.

Julie and I were driving around the back roads of Michigan and I knew the location of a round barn. When I first saw it 10 years ago it was clearly visible – in recent years it has become overgrown on the side that faces the road. I had gone by it the weekend before and they were selling fall produce out front so I suggested we see if they would let us take some photos. I knew we would need to get permission because the barn is directly behind the house and isn’t visible from public land.

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We pull in the drive and got out. Every step taken on my foot that day caused excruciating pain so Julie went towards the back where she heard someone moving. A man came towards us and we asked if we could take photos of his barn. He said no – he doesn’t let anyone take photos. I started talking to him about it and he kept telling us about how people had taken photos that they later showed in art shows, people have painted pictures of the barn from photographs, people have taken photos from adjacent fields, and people are always wanting to explore inside. He was angry about all of this. We said we understood. I really didn’t understand but we wanted him to know we respected his property and his rights.

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He finally said we could take some photos from the area he pointed towards. I wasn’t able to do much walking so stood and asked questions. The extension was built as a hay barn in the late 1800’s and originally stood at the front of the property by the house. Previous owners had moved it and attached it to the round barn. He talked to us about how hard it is to maintain the barn, how difficult it is to fix the cupola. It was evident that he likes old things as he had several antique farm implements and vehicles around the yard – I think he treasures the barn.

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What a beautiful barn. It was difficult for me to capture it at its best because the skies had become heavily overcast, but mostly because our movement around the barn was limited. We have had so many positive experiences with people who wanted to show us what they prized, wanted us to photograph them. We have had experiences similar to the one Guy Harvey had. I find it hard to understand why this man wants to hide his barn, not share the beauty with those who appreciate it and want to capture its unique character.

I am sad for the man and his barn. I have been called a Pollyanna, and I think I am. I want to believe that people will share and give. Maybe he had become jaded because people had taken advantage of him. It is wrong for people to steal and lie. Is it wrong to not trust others, to not share what we have with others? He kept saying that he didn’t want to be mean but… he felt he had been hurt, used.

I struggle with knowing how much right I have as a photographer to take photos of private property from public lands. I love photographing old buildings and have gone on private land when it isn’t close to a home and isn’t posted. It is the same issue as taking photos of people in public places. National Geographic requires photographs of private property submitted to them have the same permission documentation as photographs of people. Right now I am telling myself that it is okay to photograph private property as long as I don’t sell the photos but I also have the uneasiness in my gut that I’m not being respectful and honest.

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16 Comments »

  1. If I couldn’t take photos from the road which is a public domain then I ask permission. If I see a person I would ask. But it is true there are people out there who does not want any pictures taken as if they will lose their privacy but then again there are people who doesn’t acknowledge the ownership of such property. Am sure those owners would be very proud to see them in a different light.

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  2. Well, if there`s a whole lot of people trooping up and around his property I can completely understand his reluctance and anger. For a start, there`s a security risk-how does he know you`re not `casing the joint`or that someone else might see the pictures and come back to help themselves to one of his antiques?
    I know from your blog how well-intentioned you are and how much you value the beautiful in our world but to him you`re just another stranger.
    I`d hate if strangers started to troop around my place unannounced and looking to take photographs. Happily for me, that is most unlikely to happen! 🙂

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    • I guess the moral of the story is “Don’t buy a round barn.” There is a strong part of me that understand all that you said. There are a lot of people who steal and take advantage of other people. This is why he doesn’t want people on his property. Also people have done really stupid things that could result in injury – and then they want to sue because others should be responsible for their stupidity. My Pollyanna side just wants everyone to play nice. 🙂 Thanks so much for your honest and thoughtful comment.

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  3. I’ve had a lot of person’s tell me no about their farm and/or historic property. I think that it is about the culture that still has such things. I have found that many do not like the romanticism involved in what is portrayed and in what is perceived by the viewer. Also, there tends to be privacy type ownership and issues. Once I was told that it was a safety issue, there where wells and holes round the property and one side of the barn was no longer safe, though it appeared so from the outside. When I ask to take an image, I try to think of it as my asking to take an image of the person’s underwear drawer! 🙂

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  4. I think you had entirely the right approach, Pat, and because of your respect for his privacy, he obviously softened towards you and your camera, and even shared information with you. Great old barn, and I love your pics.

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    • Thanks, ad. I wish I could have gotten better pics of this barn with better light but I guess I feel fortunate that I was able to get what I got. 😀

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  5. That is a beautiful barn Pat. I struggle with the same uneasy feeling when I shoot without permission. Sometimes the opportunity to capture something interesting, gets the better of my conscience 🙂

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  6. We have a barn built in 1840 and have had a few stop and take a photo. You look out, see a strange car, people you don’t know, and they are clicking away. You always wonder why and then become concerned for your families, animals and property. I’ve also had my photos taken without permission and you feel violated. Talking and learning about this gorgeous barn from the owner is the best way to go.

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    • Thank you so much for your first hand perspective, Judy. I have often thought that I would feel very violated and unsafe if I saw someone taking photos of my house. Would you mind if someone came to your door to ask permission? I have been thinking of getting cards printed with some contact information to give to people – kind of make myself open and vulnerable to them. What do you think?

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