Tuesday, April 24, 2012

No one sees the barn

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America.  We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington.  There were meadows and apple orchards.  White fences trailed through the rolling fields.  Soon the sign started appearing.  THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA.  We counted five signs before we reached the site.  There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot.  We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing.  All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits.  A man in a booth sold postcards and slides -- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot.  We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers.  Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

"No one sees the barn," he said finally.

A long silence followed.

"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."

He fell silent once more.  People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.

We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura.  Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."

There was an extended silence.  The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender.  We see only what the others see.  The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future.  We've agreed to be part of a collective perception.  It literally colors our vision.  A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

Another silence ensued.

"They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said.

He did not speak for a while.  We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.

"What was the barn like before it was photographed?" he said.  "What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns?"

- Don Dellilo, White Noise, 1984



  1. (Not to be a literalist, but... well it's sort of a corollary)

    There's a barn in Wisconsin called "The Smiling Barn" which, at least inside the state, is a famous landmark. If you meet someone new and want to know where they are from, often it'll be "about 20 miles west of the smiling barn" or something like that. It's hard to miss a bright yellow barn with a gigantic smiley face painted on the side, so it was a de facto point of reference that any local would understand. Even if you'd had never heard the term before, you knew what they were talking about, just from driving past.

    So I was excited when my girlfriend and I went on a road trip from Madison to Milwaukee on route 94, which goes right past the barn. (It's roughly half way in between the two cities, part of the reason it's such a perfect landmark.) And as we neared an exit I was told to look out the window: "there it is."

    And we passed a completely non-descript red barn by the side of the highway. See, the Amish bought the barn years ago and painted it red despite the outcry from the townspeople. But it's still the smiling barn, as long as you're old enough to remember when it was.

    The smile itself was a applied wood cutout, and it was bought by a local farm stand and installed on their own barn. That barn isn't on the highway, however, so it's not the smiling barn.

  2. I once took a photo of the most photographed bridge in England but since lost it.

    Luckily I was able to track down another on the internet.

  3. Thank you guys, for sharing the words.

  4. Love it! This book had quite an effect on me the first time I read it. I always pay particular attention to the treatment of music and sound in the stories I read, and DeLillo hit the mark with this one.

  5. I just finished White Noise the other day, what a coincidence to then see this post here.

    Wonderful Blog you have here.


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