Come-Back Places – A Look at “My Barns”

They aren’t always beautiful. In fact, they’re sometimes plain. Yet, over and over and over again, they simply call your name.

This is “Book Hen.” One of my favorites in 2004 (from a slide). It is now gone – building burned as a result of spontaneous combustion from damp hay.

If we think about “come-back” places, we will realize that we all have them. Some are across an ocean or continent, others cross-country. Some are just down the road and others even further. A “come-back” place is one that inexplicably draws you back and calls your name. Some of these go back to our much younger days, and most of them hold a special place in our hearts. The reasons why can be very different – memories, solace, excitement, peace, and so on.

“Book Hen” just a few years later, maybe 2006. Already fading and peeling.

EARLY COME-BACKS When I was growing up in a small town on Long Island, NY, I was a bike ride away from several places along the edge of the Great South Bay – ones that gave me a sense of peace and quiet. They were places to think and to be present with all my senses. What I remember about them was the cool, quiet breezes blowing through my hair, the smell of salt air wafting above the water, the lapping of small waves making their way to the shoreline. I remember the warmth of the sun on my face with eyes closed pointing up toward the sky. I remember a simpler time.

Abstraction of the Love Barn.

I’ve been away from that town for thirty-five years now, and the last time I went to see my childhood home, I had to count houses, and still wasn’t sure if I had it right. It had changed so much, and there was no house number on it. I suspect those long-ago come-back places are either no longer around or are so changed that I would not be able to find or recognize them if I did. So, I am happy and comfortable in remembering them, the person I was then, and the peace they provided and why I kept going back to them. They were a good beginning.

Corner of the “Love Barn” when you could actually read the words and see the face.

AND THEN, THERE ARE MY BARNS.  I have a collection (growing) of “come-back” places. Each one holds my attention and brings me back for different reasons. You cannot imagine how many GPS pushpins are in my Garmin for “awesome” trees. They are everywhere. Why is that? And, I love old barns and buildings and farms and the rural landscape. But why? When I dig a little deeper into what makes each place resonate with me enough to create a “must return” attitude toward them, it’s clear that some of those reasons are rooted in my childhood and the experiences I had and their influence on me – even if I didn’t recognize or acknowledge the impact as it was happening. Something else, my “come-back” places are only good. I am not drawn back to revisit negative things of old.

Meet “Cameron,” the little kitten we rescued along with her brother while visiting the barns. She just sat and watched us as we photographed. I still wonder what lucky people got the two of them. A rescue took them in for us after seeing how awesome they were.

So, these places draw on something below the surface, even when they are not inherently or obviously beautiful. Excellent example – MY BARNS – this wonderful place of the “not so beautiful” nature that continually calls me back to visit the barns just outside of Cameron, NC. I first “met” them and began photographing them as best I can remember in the summer of 2004. This was early in my photography journey, and I was excited to be introduced to new, different and quirky places off the beaten path and under the radar (still am).

Section of Cameron Barns with hand and electrical box

Always finding something new and different in these barns.

I’ve been visiting and sharing my barns ever since. Why is that? I’ve figured it out. These barns resonate with my personal history, and they continually feed my desire to discover new things, beauty and something different in what others might easily and simply view as old and broken down. The barns challenge and inspire me. Each visit delivers something I haven’t noticed or seen before. Each visit reminds me that “my barns” – like me – will not be here forever. In fact, each visit brings news and discovery that one more is gone and sometimes forecasts perhaps the next one to go. Even as I make the two- hour trek several times a year, I know that someday all of them will be gone. I’m relatively certain that the “Barnstormers” will not be back to repaint the old or find new barns to paint. Very likely, this “come-back” place of mine will one day become a very fond memory, not unlike those places along the shoreline of the Great South Bay. The barns will no longer exist, but will be ever retrievable in my mind, memory and photographs. They are a piece of my life history.

I called this side of the barn and images from it “Mutt Barn.” The entire barn is gone now.

This side of the barn (now gone), I called “The Race Barn.” Many a group photo were taken in front of this.

THE BACKSTORY OF THE PAINTED BARNS OF CAMERON, NC. They had their start with a young local artist, David Ellis, in 1999, who organized a group of artists, The Barnstormers, from near and far came to Cameron and painted on almost all sides of at least seventeen barns and buildings, trucks and tractors and other farm equipment. The community rallied around the artist with food, lodging, supplies and enthusiasm. They returned, I believe, a few times, but have not been back since 2004, when I began my visits. Cameron is a small crossroads town in Moore County about eleven miles south of Sanford, known for its antique stores and semi-annual antiques street fairs than for the barns.

Back side of Race and Mutt Barn in Cameron, NC. Another view of the barn that is gone.

If you find yourself in Cameron (not on Sunday or Monday), you must have lunch at The Dewberry Deli & Soda Fountain, which is downstairs below The Old Hardware Antiques. As long as I’ve been visiting my barns, I’ve been coming to and bringing others to the Deli to enjoy the great food and unique, old-time atmosphere. If you must visit Cameron on Sunday or Monday, pack a picnic lunch.

WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THESE BARNS? – Anyone who has been with me at the barns can tell you how passionate I am about these now much older, painted, faded, peeling, weather weary warriors of another time. In part, this passion comes from being a photographer and being attracted to things that attract my interest. These barns are perfect subjects for Wabi Sabi images – challenging anyone to find the art and beauty in decay. However, I believe my connection to them goes deeper and further back into my family history and influences from childhood.

My father grew up on a farm, and everyone in his large family worked it. His parents and my great-grandmother came to America from Poland. They were farmers. Farming then (and even now) is not an easy life. It requires long, long, long hours, hard work and an acceptance that the rewards reaped in part rely on a dependence of nature to provide the right amounts of sun and rain to produce a worthy harvest. It is my belief that most farmers farm because they share a passion for the land and what it provides, and they love what they do, and they are not afraid to work hard. I’ve never met a lazy, land-hating farmer, so that’s my take.

When my three sisters and I were growing up, we had what I remember to be a very large garden (felt like a mini-farm).  Whether it was or not, it felt as I remember like it was as big as a football field. It probably wasn’t. We grew corn, potatoes, string beans, tomatoes, peas, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, peppers and much more.

Long ago view of four of the barns in this section. Just this past year, the first barn disappeared. Vanished without a trace.

Each day, as the garden grew, my sisters and I would have to hoe and weed at least two rows each, pick whatever was ripe and ready, carry it “all the way back to the house” (such drama), and help do what needed to be done with it. We had to “work” the garden. I remember loving when the sweet peas and string beans were ready and usually tried to claim those rows (the “snacker” rows). I also remember hating the potatoes and their dry dirt harvest. We had to follow behind my father’s tractor as he plowed up the dirt to reveal those potatoes. No snacking and much harder, dirty work.

Sisters in the garden. Think this is where the potatoes grew. That’s me, wiping the sweat from my brow. (Notice the outfits and anklets. My mother made most of our clothes, too.)

I don’t think any of us really liked all those “hard hours” and work in the field. However, I do see now how those times influenced me and provided me with a strong work ethic and sense of pride and understanding the value of putting in the time. The work ethic of both my parents was instilled in me by way of example and experience, by being made to do what we would have preferred not to. We raised the garden not for fun, or to see what would grow, but to feed our family. My parents married at age 21. By the time they were 25, they had four girls to raise (and feed). I cannot imagine what that was like. I’ve never had children and didn’t marry until I was 43. The life I lead, in comparison, has been so very different. However, if I had been blessed with children, I know I would have made them “work” as well.

“Bliss Barn” on the corner in infrared.

So, when I drive through rural areas of the state and country – through farmland – and see the barns and buildings that belong there, I am reminded of that part of my upbringing that helps me appreciate what those places, barns, buildings, trucks and tractors represent. For me, they illustrate hard work, a passion for the land, providing for families, a sense of pride and responsibility, and the knowledge and acceptance of the dependency on the whims of nature on the harvest.

Pokemon Kid nestled in the autumn leaves.

My emotional and spiritual connection to these painted barns – my barns – goes deeper than the peeling paint, the grain of the wood and the leaning of walls from time and the elements. They bring me “home” on a level I have only in recent years figured out. Photographically, these barns just keep giving from an endless supply of potential in subjects, approaches and creative possibilities.

Do you have a “come-back” place (or many)? Somewhere you can’t help but going back to year after year or as often as possible? Think about what it is that makes you return … and why you can’t help but go back. The reasons may surprise you as you connect the dots. They may explain or confirm some things about you and your history, and may also give you new perspectives on these old, favorite places. Like me and “my barns, you might understand more fully why these places matter to you, and why they keep calling you back.

As for my barns, they are fading and falling and vanishing. Still, I will go until the last one falls …

“Falling Down.” I knew when I took this image (infrared) that it would be the last time I would see it. I was right. This past year the four other barns that remained in this section either fell or were taken down.


The door is nearly off the barn now, and some of the paper is missing.

American Gothic with a twist

Children on the side of the barn. This scene is no longer accessible as the trees and briars have overgrown and claimed the space.

The front side of the Love Barn in its early days.

The front side of the Love Barn with faded paint and autumn leaves.

For Love of the Light We Cannot See

What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.
― Anthony Doerr from All the Light We Cannot See

Coastal Marsh in Infrared

Coastal Marsh in Infrared at 590nm – Harsh midday light that was not conducive to color photography.

It’s been over six years since I was introduced – hook, line and sinker – to infrared photography. Even before I processed my first image, I was hooked (and I knew it). It began one spring day when a box from Mark Hillard containing a Canon 20D converted to 590nm arrived on my doorstep. Keep in mind, I’m a Nikon shooter and had to learn to navigate the Canon. I had no idea what a nanometer (nm) was, and my brain hurt just thinking about what I might be getting into.

Bodie Light Sunset - Faux Color Infrared at 590nm

Bodie Light Sunset – Faux Color Infrared at 590nm

I’m not a science or math geek, so words like nanometer, infrared, wavelength, spectrum and conversions made my head spin. In the end, what that early experience (or inexperience) did for me and my photography was gave me opportunities do “happy dances” in light too contrasty and “terrible” for general color photography, especially landscapes.

The other challenge for me, initially, was that I absolutely LOVE colors! All of them, though purple in any hue is my favorite. When shooting infrared at 590nm, all my images on the back of the LCD reminded me of a negative. Pretty much all color was removed, which left the bare bones of the image subject to stand on its own in form, structure, composition and exposure.

Infrared image of Gresham's Mill in Georgia at 590nm

Infrared image of Gresham’s Mill in Georgia at 590nm – Raw Image Processed First

What I discovered was that shooting infrared was helping me see the landscape in ways I had not been able to before. It also helped me visualize the scene in black and white, another longstanding challenge that began to fade away the longer I embraced infrared (IR).

Infrared image of Gresham's Mill in Georgia at 590nm

Infrared image of Gresham’s Mill in Georgia at 590nm – Processed for Faux Color after the Raw image was processed

There are endless possibilities for capturing and sharing the world of infrared. IR filters can be used, but for a more fluid shooting experience, having a camera converted to specific wavelengths (for example, 590nm, 630nm, 665nm, 720nm (standard) and 830nm (b/w) makes more sense. A number of companies offer conversions. I had my Nikon D90 converted by LifePixel and have been very pleased.

Infrared image of Gresham's Mill in Georgia at 590nm

Infrared image of Gresham’s Mill in Georgia at 590nm – Processed for black/white using the Faux Color version.

I chose 590nm because it offered the possibilities for me to play with a big box of color crayons in faux color processing, and I could produce great black/white versions of those same images. Now, after only a few days of shooting with another Canon converted to 830nm, I am equally hooked to black/white IR imaging and plan to convert another Nikon body so I can experience black/white photography in ways I never have before.

There are many reasons why I love infrared photography, but perhaps the top three I will share here provide some insight into how it changed my way of seeing the world and expanded my photographic horizons.

Bald Head Island boathouse in marsh at 590nm - Long Exposure Faux Color Infrared

Bald Head Island boathouse in marsh at 590nm – Long Exposure Faux Color Infrared

First, IR photography breaks barriers. It is fantastic during harsh, midday light. What that means for me is that I can shoot all day long in color and infrared without limitations. When other photographers put their cameras down because the light is “bad” for color imaging, I turn to my 590nm infrared and shoot, shoot and shoot. For those who know me, I’m not a sleeper, so midday naps are unheard of for me. And, I always have snacks and water in the car, so eating is secondary to photography.

Infrared black/white barn near Cameron, NC, falling down next to a freshly plowed field

Infrared black/white barn near Cameron, NC, falling down next to a freshly plowed field. This barn has since collapsed into an unrecognizable pile of rubble overrun by vines and grass.

Second, IR photography reveals what I cannot see with my eyes. Remember, I said that I LOVE color, so visualizing the world in black and white was always a challenge for me (until infrared). It didn’t matter how much I read or knew, I just couldn’t internalize the concept. Colors always got in the way of that process. In addition, because infrared is outside the visible light that our eyes can see, it captures things that we simply cannot see, such as structure in clouds on a white-sky day.

Faux color infrared of stone archway at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia

Faux color infrared of stone archway at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia

And, third, (though not nearly approaching the end of all the reasons I love IR), IR photography provides freedom of expression. It gives me full permission to express my vision. What the camera captures in infrared doesn’t look “real.” The purest photographer, the one whose only desire is to present the world as it really is, could be challenged by IR photography at first.

I do not consider myself a documentary photographer. Rather, I embrace the idea that I am an artist with a camera as my medium. In post-processing infrared images, it’s PLAYTIME. The sessions follow a similar path of steps, but where they lead creatively is all according to the mood of the moment. With reality suspended, wider ranges of interpretation are possible, and that thrills me.

Infrared image of sunflowers in field at 590nm and lightly processed (before channel swap)

Infrared image of sunflowers in field at 590nm and lightly processed (before channel swap). Anything is possible.

The images presented here are just a few examples of what is possible when you put a converted IR camera at 590nm into the hands of an expressive photographer, however skeptical at first. Where you might go with your infrared interpretations is up to you.

Faux color infrared of Sparks Lane in the Smokies. No better way to capture an often photographed place than with infrared and imagination.

Faux color infrared of Sparks Lane in the Smokies. No better way to capture an often-photographed place than with infrared and imagination. Again, this from a converted Nikon D90 at 590nm.

If you’re interested in learning about infrared photography on a more technical level, or seeing where you can go with it at different wavelengths, here are a few options: Mark Hilliard’s blog  at It’s all Mark’s fault that I’m addicted to infrared. (Join Mark and me on our workshops, we cover both color and IR techniques. An IR Immersion workshop based in Pawleys Island, SC is set for this August.) Join the Infrared Photography Group on Facebook (nearly 6,000 members worldwide) at I also recommend LifePixel‘s website for lots more information on infrared photography.

IR GETS THE MOTOR RUNNING ... Faux color nfrared of 1956 Buick parked at Old Car City USA, White, GA

IR GETS THE MOTOR RUNNING … Faux color Infrared (590nm) of 1956 Buick parked at Old Car City USA, White, GA

No Good Pictures at High Noon?

Most photographers you ask would tell you that after the sun comes up and high noon approaches you might as well pack up your camera gear go eat or take a nap or both. Except for the napping, there are times when I would agree. However, the blanket statement that “there are no good pictures to be made at high noon” has a lot of holes and many tattered edges.

For instance, when skies are overcast and the day is draped with soft, diffuse light, this makes the colors rich and saturated and incredibly wonderful for macro, close-ups and intimate landscapes. With the exception of torrential downpours, on a rainy day it’s entirely possible to capture exquisite moments under cover of rain gear, umbrellas, and shelters or even from the car window. In fact, shooting through your windshield during a rain shower can offer up painterly views of the landscape.

Longleaf Pine and Fern in the rain through windshield

Longleaf Pine and Fern shot during a sun shower through windshield

So, what about when the sun IS out and glaring through the scene? What then? Well, I say that if you choose to take a nap or get a bite to eat, there’s a chance you could miss something special. You still have options, but you have to arm yourself with openness and put your “noticers” on alert. With your eyes and mind open, you’ll be surprise at what you discover. It’s not the time for grand landscapes, but rather a time for looking for and seeing something differently.

Here’s a situation that occurred recently on a visit to a wildlife refuge. Morning light was gone. High noon is fast approaching. What to do? Note: All three of the these images were taken within a span of 11 minutes just after “high noon.” As someone with a thing for trees, I had already noticed a stand of trees with light and shadows dancing across the tall grasses. The first of these three images was what caught my attention as a place of potential – the light and shadows, dark and light tree bark and light tan grasses. The straight shot here is the handshake – just the introduction. Some would stop right here, but this leaves no lasting impression.

Shadows and Light in trees at Pocosin NWR - The Test Shot

Shadows and Light in trees at Pocosin NWR – The Test Shot

What if we try some in-camera multiple exposures? Now, we’re digging a little deeper and have an opportunity to get to know more. Something different … getting there, but not quite. Another area of the refuge earlier in the day worked much better for this technique.

Shadows and Light presented with in-camera movement

Shadows and Light presented with in-camera movement

So, how about some playing with intentional camera movement? With the aperture set at f/22 and ISO at 50, the shutter speed was slow enough to have some fun. I simply found the best area for starting the up/down motion and worked it until the best speed and range of movement gave me what turned on the “happy light.” This abstract interpretation of that stand of trees at high noon hit the spot. I was happy.

Artistic interpretation of shadows and light with motion blur on section of trees

Artistic interpretation of shadows and light with motion blur on section of trees

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to address the idea that bright, contrasty light is simply an invitation to get out the infrared camera and start shooting subjects in the light that we cannot see. With the addition of a converted IR camera (Nikon D90 at 590nm) in my bag, the potential for all-day shooting adventures are endless. I’ll share more on this next month. Suffice to say that with great subjects you can work magic in infrared and discover great opportunities for image making.

Infrared image of Corolla Lighthouse framed by live oak in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Infrared image of Corolla Lighthouse framed by live oak in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Favorite Places | Where Will You Go?

We all have favorite places–the ones that seem to call our names. And they call for many reasons and at different times of the year. Each one beckons when we need it most.

Duck prints on ice in winter at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

Duck prints on ice in winter at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

Since we’re in the middle of winter, perhaps it’s fitting to share one of my favorite places that is filled with natural winter wonders – Northeastern North Carolina.

It’s more of a region than one singular location, and it includes waves of migratory birds and people. I love the birds and celebrate those moments when I capture good images. Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge abound with a variety of birds and bear and other wildlife and offer photographers and nature lovers endless possibilities to enjoy a visit.

However, the northeastern part of North Carolina, especially Hyde and Tyrrell Counties, call my name for more than birds or wildlife. For me, it’s the love of the land and sea reflected in the rural landscape that does it.

The shrimper fleet in Engelhard, Hyde County, NC

The shrimper fleet in Engelhard, Hyde County, NC

From the weather-worn shrimp boats in Engelhard and Swan Quarter to the open farmland with lines and lines of crops to community churches and abandoned buildings and tools of both trades left for nature to reclaim — I cannot help but long for my next return visit. It’s more than “liking” these amazing subjects. I feel connected in ways I’ve only begun to understand. I must continue to visit and revisit and share this area while it remains as it is. We’ve seen it happen – barns fall, boats sink, and then the landscape changes into something that lives only in memories.

In winter, when most of the green is gone, what’s left are patterns in trees, leftover crops for wildlife, cold winds and so much to discover during the days of short light. Expect the unexpected. I have my favorite spots to revisit, but am still surprised to find new opportunities unfold (even though they’ve always been there for me to find).

Morning light patterns & textures at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

Morning light patterns & textures at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

This pull of the rural landscape is not unnatural to my own history. My father grew up on a farm on Long Island. He’s worked his whole life as a master craftsman on boats, building and fixing. Growing up, we spent time tending a very long garden (digging, planting, weeding, harvesting and enjoying the fruits of our labor). We also helped my father at his shop (sanding, sweeping, and anything else that needed to be done.) I’m proud of the work ethic he and my mother instilled in me and my three sisters. I’m thankful to be able to understand that the lives of farmers and fishermen are not easy; that they are filled with hard work and a love for what the land and sea provides. I recognize a passion for doing what does not come without effort or without disappointments. I recognize and admire the perseverance I see. And that’s what keeps me coming back to this special place. What follows are just a few reasons why.

Winter sunset among the cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet

Winter sunset among the cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet

Solitary cypress tree at sunset on Lake Mattamuskeet

Solitary cypress tree at sunset on Lake Mattamuskeet

Canal dock with crab pots in Hyde County

Canal dock with crab pots in Hyde County

Pungo Trees

Faux color infrared of field tree framed on Pocosin Lakes NWR

Winter cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet - A Different View

Winter cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet – A Different View