Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Most Photographed Barn in America

Corinne Vionnet's St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow; part of Photo Opportunities, a series of images by layering 200-300 tourist of the same landmarks on top of one another.
     Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove twenty-two miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the 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 noes 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 side, replaced at once 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 in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be a part of a collective perception. This 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 the advanced the film.
     "What was the barn like before it was photographed?" he said. "What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can't answer these questions because we've read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can't get outside the aura. We're part of the aura. We're here, we're now."
     He seemed immensely pleased by this. 
          -- Don DeLillo, White Noise

I've been away from the blog for the last week or so -- reading week in sunny (har har) Halifax has had me reading Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, marathoning on the third season of Deadwood and drinking copious amounts of Propellor beer. Should be back to my regular (if it can be called that) posting schedule later in the week; upcoming subjects include the byline gender gap, popular press books that take a dystopic view of the effect of the Internet on the human mind, and what it's like to watch The Godfather a million years after everyone else has seen it. Because I just did that. At the age of twenty-four.


Protagitron said...

The New Yorker had a pretty funny rundown of the three kinds of books that get published about the Internet: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. It's by Adam Gopnik, I think.

And yet, sadly, no one is interested in my pop science book on how the bound book ruined our brains when it displaced the scroll.

Sarah said...

I just googled the article and now have reading material for tomorrow.

I would totally read your pop science book, but only if it had a snappy subtitle like "How the [noun] [verbs] our [plural noun]"

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