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.