As you probably know, I’ve been shooting the Palouse region of Washington and Idaho for many years. I’m so fortunate to live in nearby Spokane; I spend countless days of the year driving the winding backroads and exploring the hidden sides of the Palouse, shooting and teaching workshops. Over the years one thing I’ve loved to photograph is the old, weathered barns throughout the region. These classic structures seem to capture a collective memory of the American countryside; to tap into a romantic nostalgia. However, once every few years or so, a barn disappears. Of course, some of these century-old structures are simply going to collapse on their own. Others, however, look to me to be quite structurally sound. Although I can’t say for certain what would make a farmer or land owner tear down a barn, one thing may be partially responsible: salvaged barn wood is trendy.
A recent NPR report discusses the trend of using reclaimed or salvaged barn wood in construction–ceiling beams, walls, dining room tables, or brewpub bars–and how it’s helping barn owners make money and how it’s changing the rural landscape. An old, rickety barn may be nothing to a farmer, but by selling it to a barn-wood reclaiming company, could clear the land and make a good amount of money. The reclaiming company then cleans the wood, removes the nails, and sells it for a pretty penny to home builders and designers.
I love the idea of “upcycling” and reusing old, unwanted materials in cool new ways. I totally support ideas that keep materials out of landfills and save natural resources. And of course I support farmers being able to make money from something they don’t need or use anymore. But as a photographer, I mourn the loss of these beautiful old barns. Some of these structures are truly historic, dating back a hundred years or more. Photographs of old barns inspire the viewer to daydream about history: of the barn, of the farmers, our own family histories. The architecture of the structures often have regional uniqueness: old barns in Wyoming look different from old barns in Oregon, for example. I worry that this reclaimed barn-wood trend may take away from us something that can’t be replaced.
None of the barns in the previous images exist anymore. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip also performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip resides in Spokane Washington with his wife and son.