Good Life

Lifelong Learning: Some barns have telling stories

Editor’s note: This column is adapted from the introduction to “Pennsylvania Barn Stories,” which is available at .

Writers and photographers are always looking for projects.

During the period when we were resettling in Centre County in 2011, my wife and I spent a lot of time driving on interstate highways. I kept noticing barns and realized that a book of barn photographs would make a good project for me. But I also knew that there were thousands of such books by photographers much better than I and so I needed to come up with a unique angle.

And then it hit me. Not just barns, but Pennsylvania barns with stories.

Barns don’t just dot rural Pennsylvania; they dominate it. After all, before there was coal and steel, there was farming. And with farms came barns, often built before the family’s house.

I gladly joined the Historic Barn and Farm Foundation of Pennsylvania and immediately became a devoted fan of the group’s annual barn tour. I learned a lot about barns on these tours, but I also learned more about Pennsylvania in general and the German side of my family. I am a ninth generation Pennsylvanian, descended from Swiss-Germans who arrived in Philadelphia in 1733. Distant cousins still farm in Schuylkill County.

Do all barns have stories? Yes and no.

If the barn has been in your family for generations, that’s the story. In many cases, though, it’s only of interest to the rest of the family. Because space is at a premium in a self-published book, some of the barns in this book represent a class of barns, such as farmland trust or multiple-generational ownership or a way of life. I didn’t have room for several in each category.

The barns I visited were in varying condition. They ranged from the working barn filled with livestock to the storage barn that was in such disrepair I was not about to go inside. Barns are expensive to maintain. It’s home ownership multiplied.

I could write a few thousand words about photo manipulation. I have been taking photographs since the mid-1950s and span the period from sending my film off to be developed to having my own darkroom to the digital age.

The photograph begins in the camera; it ends somewhere else. All photographs are manipulated in some way. For this book, all of the photographs were shot in high dynamic range, meaning that multiple exposures of the same scene were combined into one photo. I always shoot with a polarizing filter on my camera, which usually results in photos that “pop” (to use a photographer’s word).

I made recommended adjustments in exposure, white balance, clarity and vibrance. I sharpened all of my photos. I removed some wires. I altered perspective in two photos so the barns did not look as though they were tilting backward.

Not only did I take the photographs and write the text, I also designed the book and then self-published it. It was a pleasure working with me throughout the process.