There are many camera-wielding travelers that cannot drive past an old barn, house, or an aging storage building standing and deteriorating in a field without stopping to capture a picture. And I admit that includes me.
I can’t begin to, or even try, count how many wooden relics of the past I have made photographs of since I acquired my first camera so long ago; or for that matter how many different types of cameras I have used in that pursuit.
I must wonder at my reason for stopping on the many roadsides, camera-in-hand, to take a picture of some rotting clapboard structure. For a moment as I look inside I wonder about the lives of those who lived there. My wife likes to look for survivors of old plants and gardening that took place, e.g., rhubarb, and lilacs. She says the fondest thing she ever discovered was some poets’ eye narcissus (daffodil) that had survived over fifty years on their own. Very few photographs have ended as prints, and I suspect many readers will, like me, just file the memories away, because the act of documenting that old barn, or homestead, seemed important at the time, but when we developed the film, or downloaded our memory card, we didn’t have a plan that included dealing with the picture.
Hanging on my wall I have a very large (3’x5’) print of an old mining structure I had made using a 4×5 Speed Graphic camera; and once, in the late 1970’s I had a calendar made of buildings I found locally, in the interior of British Columbia. Sadly, as one might expect, none of those structures featured in that calendar still remain. However, most of my images like that languish in files, as forgotten as the structures they were made from.
What is it that makes it so exciting to discreetly, and precariously sometimes, to scramble over the barbed wire fence, onto some farmer’s private property, in spite of the “No Trespassing” signs nailed to the fence? Our images rarely depict unusual subjects that haven’t been seen before or those of some architectural masterpiece; they are just of some decaying wood structure. However, those buildings are still intriguing and make us wonder about the life that was lived beside, around, and inside them, and why we need to make an exposure of that story on our camera’s sensor.
I don’t believe there is any one lens, or one particular way, to photograph a building. I think the words “whatever moves you” fits best. Sometimes it’s the structure, sometimes the way it fits in the landscape. There are occasions that demand a long lens, others that call us to get close with a wide angle. My post-production might be some over-the-top effect, black and white, sepia toned, infrared, or a documentary as close to reality as I can make it. There isn’t a right or wrong way to make a picture, and in my opinion, almost any way one wants to present an image of an old building works.
No matter where the discussion goes regarding why so many photographers select dilapidated old buildings for their subjects, I think it is as photographer Elliott Erwitt says, “… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
I always appreciate comments. Thanks, John
Check out my website at www.enmanscamera.com