Thursday, January 23, 2014

Photographing My Old Barn

The peak in the loft of our 19th-century barn.  The wood was hand-hewn from timber felled on our property.  The support beams are American Chestnut, a tree which now suffers from Chestnut Blight and dies off before maturity.

I'll be the first to admit that I have an eclectic variety of stuff swimming around in my head: I went to college for fine arts (major in photography), art history, art education, American studies, and museum studies.  However, a lot of what I have chosen to study has been, in some way or another, related to this 18th-century farm that I now call home.  I often included the farm, nature, and animals as subject matter in my art; and early American architecture, art, and history have been my academic passion.



I went to college at the cusp of the digital photography revolution, so most of my classes were still in film.  In fact, I used the fully-manual 35mm Pentax camera that my Dad had used in his college photography class in the 1960's!  It was a great way to learn the science behind photography.   I developed my own film and printed my own photos in the darkroom.  I still use that camera occasionally when I need to switch in my fancy lenses.  When I had to have it recently repaired, I was curious if anybody still uses those cameras; the shop owner told me it was a desirable "vintage" model.  I have to say, it made me feel a little bit "vintage" too!

I worked on this farm photography project while taking a class in large-format photography at the University of Hartford.  Each of us were loaned out a special large format camera for the semester.  Yes, the bulky, old-fashioned kind on a tripod, complete with a drapery cloth that I huddled under as I adjusted the bellows and lens.  The film was not on a roll but in 4" x 5" sheets that were individually loaded into the back of the camera, so the detail of such a large negative was amazing.  I had a separate light meter and, after taking a light reading, I would calculate the exposure for each shot.  I could further specialize my exposure by using the Zone System, a method developed by Ansel Adams to get both incredible detail and contrast in his breathtaking photos of the national parks.  The focus could also be highly specialized by tilting the negative at an angle during exposure, like if I was taking a landscape photo and wanted everything in focus from the grass in front of me to mountains fifty miles away.  I thought the large-format camera was the perfect tool to take pictures of the farm with.

The back side of the old barn and the barnyard.
The rock retaining wall leads up to the second-story loft entry.
We have two barns at the farm.  The older barn is a big, two-story barn built in the 1800's.  It has seen many uses as the farm has transitioned between different functions, including growing tobacco and raising dairy cows.   This type of barn is called English Bank style, a style popular in early America in which part of it has been built into the side of a bank for easy, ground-level access to the second story.  The "bank side" of our barn has a door for loading hay directly into the loft.  Our barn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation "Historic Barns of Connecticut" Project.  The whole farm is part of the Riverton Historic District.  

The smaller barn was built in the 1990's.  It began as a maple sugar house when my Dad started a small maple syrup business.  He had an evaporator and all the equipment, including tubing connecting the maple trees up the mountain.  Gravity drew the sap down the mountain, through the tubes, into a collection tank near the sugar house.  I've been day-dreaming about making a small batch of syrup this year by using just the old-fashioned taps and buckets, but I couldn't imagine all the work of snow-shoeing up the mountain, laden with equipment, to tap and connect hundreds of trees!  (I also remember him complaining about the porcupines, who thought the plastic tubing was a tasty treat.)  Today, the sugar house is a lovely two-stall stable with a fenced pasture for our sheep.

Our smaller barn which was originally a maple sugar house.  It's now a pretty little two-stall stable.  The flowering tree in the foreground is a pear tree planted by my grandparents.  I used infrared film for this shot.


The loft of the old barn.  The large beam on the right-hand side shows the marks of being hand-hewn.  I used only the natural light coming in the windows for these interior pictures, so my exposures were as much as ten minutes long.

A view out of a second-story window of the barn, showing the pasture. The panes of glass are old and wavy, distorting the fence.

Looking up to the second story.

More of my farm photos are pinned on my Pinterest boards.  I hope you enjoy them!  - Katie

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