Thursday, April 18, 2013

In and out, up and down

Steve Snyder, a gifted and hard-working photographer in the Missouri Ozarks, photographs barns.


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He writes:
As a child, growing up on a farm, my friends on farms, relatives on farms, we all had barns. We would play in barns, work in barns and get into trouble in barns. These great structures were everywhere just waiting for us to explore. We would build hay tunnels for our parents to later curse us for as they stepped off into them, jump from the loft onto the backs of unsuspecting cows. We would break arms falling out of them, run across the occasional black snake, find a batch of newborn kittens. These were our castles, our forts, our domain.

When we weren’t playing in them we learned how to milk cows in them. As we grew we learned how to stack hay in them, vaccinate livestock, and all the purposes they were originally intended for.

A brief note:  not all of us in the Ozarks had barns, but we certainly played and worked with those who did.  In fact, this barn-centered world was one of the reasons we'd visit our friends living on farms.  They had the forts and castles (and, yes, the snakes and kittens) unavailable in town.  (OK, yes, you could find snakes and kittens in town, too, but finding them in the barn, especially like one pictured above, made the kitten--or the rare owl--discover all the more cool.  Finding snakes was a mixed bag;  neat to freak out your friends, not neat if the snake demonstrated its dislike of your discovery....)

Anyway, Steve continues that while usually Ozark photographers shoot barn exteriors, he prefers the interiors for their architecture and idiosyncratic personality.  In other words, we can learn more about a barn once we're inside it. Wittgenstein argued that languages--and religions--were like games;  we truly come to "know" them once we've actually played (or spoken or practiced) them.  Reading about basketball will give you information about charging and blocking fouls, but you need to get out on the court to know the difference.  As with basketball, so too with barns and, well, Roman Catholicism.  Like Steve says, the same space can be used imaginatively and pragmatically.

Check out Steve's work and its beautiful, transcendent locality.  I'm partial to his work since I know Steve and the area, but other locations surely have their own local photographic experts:  the great places like the Rocky Mountains and the Maine Coast, but also like the Ozarks the often overlooked and under-appreciated: western New York, interior Maine, the Nebraska cornfields, the Texas panhandle...the list goes on.  Rod Dreher celebrates the local--in his case, St. Francisville, Louisiana--and the reasons to return here.  Rod uses words and Steve uses photographic images, but both through their concern for the local point us toward the transcendent. 

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