David Plowden, The American Barn

In a recent blog entry I talked about my fascination with Buffalo’s old and unoccupied grain elevators. I felt they had a spiritual quality about them; that in a way they were monuments to the past. I went on to say that I was aware of the elevators when I was growing up, but never really witnessed or cared about them. And I never thought about seeing them during the many times I had been back to visit after I graduated from college and moved away. I suspect this isn’t an atypical situation for many of us. My hope in writing about this was that we would now think about the opportunities that exist to capture the power and beauty of the many artifacts of a different … and perhaps better time.

In the same entry I mentioned one of my favorite photographers, David Plowden.   Plowden describes himself as “an archeologist with a camera”, spending his life “one step ahead of the wrecking ball” to capture poignant images of the American landscape and historic American structures before they’re gone. Because I have also been discussing doing photographic projects or working on a theme this made me think about one my favorite Plowden books, The American Barn.

I love old barns, but like many structures that represent our proud past, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Just as the small farm is becoming more a thing of the past, so too are these wonderful buildings. They represented a simpler time and way of life that is gone and most likely not coming back. They also represent a less homogenized version of America with their unique shapes, designs and sizes. So different than what dots much of our landscape today. Unfortunately they and the small farms they inhabit are going fast, as are a range of iconic structures across the land. Instead we have huge agribusinesses, suburban sprawl, more sub divisions, strip mall blight, ugly uninspiring architecture … you name it. It’s all about economics … or because we seem to want it … or because we don’t really care about enough about things done in really bad taste.

Thankfully Plowden has taken the time to travel across the country capturing images of these beautiful structures so that we will be able to remember and cherish them before they’re gone. Plowden is a master photographer and printer and the 130 black and white pictures contained in the large coffee table size volume are wonderful. I look at it often and when it’s open I almost feel a breath of fresh air from the crop fields blow off its pages. It inspires and makes me happier. Take a look … perhaps you will feel the same.

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