What Used To Be
There are many things in this world that we photograph because it makes us feel good. We think they are beautiful and we want to capture that beauty and refer back to it and share it with others. It’s only natural to want to keep and remember the good things in life.
However, sometimes, we feel the need to capture something that is not so happy. It’s not often that happens for me as I tend to try to keep myself surrounded by good things, but this was one of those things I felt I needed to photograph.
Over the years I photographed this location many times. The first time I found it and shot it, I lost it as I didn’t’ know my way around the country roads very well. It took me a whole season to find it again. It was an old barn in a field and some of my very best early work came from standing on the side of the road shooting this barn. I had always wanted to approach the farmer who owned it and get permission to get closer to it. Go on the land and maybe even go inside it.
Being the shy person that I am (in person) I never did it. I kept saying “someday” or “maybe next season” but I never did.
Two years ago we had a terrible thunder storm and the sky was lit up all night like a firework show. The next morning my husband, who is a firefighter, came home exhausted and told me that they were fighting a barn fire all night long. I asked where and he mentioned the general direction of my old barn.
I instantly went on alert.
“EXACTLY WHICH OLD BARN??” I asked.
He told me where it was and what the property looked like and I knew, down in the pit of my stomach that it was “my” barn. I took a drive out there about a week later and found that it was burned completely to the ground. I stood there with my camera in my hand and felt this incredible loss. I had spent so much time shooting that old place, I had come to think of it as my own personal spot. The place I went to when I needed some peace. Some quiet. Some alone.
I shed some tears for this place, and then finally, after all that time, I drove up the farmer’s lane. I had printed 3 8X10’s of different shots I’d taken, and I was going to give them to him.
I was nervous to knock on his door, but I finally did it. He was such a nice man and we had a good chat. He didn’t know what to make of those photos, but he was happy to have them. He pulled out some old books and showed me photos of when it was first built, a hundred years before. In some way, he was glad for what happened, as it saved him the trouble of tearing it down. I think I was more upset than he was.
I finally asked permission to get closer and he told me to go ahead. So I did. As I documented it while it was standing, so did I document it when it was nothing but ashes and pieces of burned nails, hinges and chicken wire. I took photos of it all… and it was sad. But I’m glad I finally did it.. I only wished I had done it sooner. I was amazed at the beautiful colours of the metal pieces I found! As terrible as the fire and situation was, it sure is something to shift through the left over pieces. There were nails EVERYWHERE and as much as I would have liked to get right down on the ground and take some shots, I didn’t dare, lest I end up with a large nail embedded in my knee!
Don’t put these things off. And I’m not just talking about photography. I’m talking about life. You might always think there is going to be a next time or a tomorrow.. but you just never really will know for sure.