The Most Photographed Barn in America

The old humble barn that sits in front of the grand Teton range is a beautiful sight. Many gather there to take photographs and see the story it tells of the history of the Mormon settlers. It is famously known as The Most Photographed Barn in America. Over the years the number of visitors has increased, and huge crowds of tourists started to swarm around the barn. Complaints had started coming in saying that having travelled far and wide visitors didn’t expect to be standing behind hundreds of people. In response, the Park People asked the barn if it would hold up a photo of itself on a stick so that the visitors at the back would be able to see. At first the visitors were unsure, but soon even the ones at the front were looking at the picture of the barn instead of the barn; it was bigger and had close ups, and was in high definition. It was working well and visitors were appearing more satisfied on the barn’s website than they had before. Comments mentioned that visitors were happy that they could see close ups of the barn, and that their expectations for taking photographs were almost always met – advice from others included that it was not necessary to go to photograph the barn during the early hours of dawn because the photograph that the barn held up of itself had a ‘very nice’ sunset in it which one could capture at any time of day. People were so distracted by the larger photo the barn held up of itself that little had they noticed that the barn’s arms were bowing at the weight of the pictures, and it was looking old, and tired. One evening, a powerful storm struck and the barn’s arms snapped, sending the pictures plummeting through its roof. The barn destroyed and unsalvageable, the Park People worried that the public would scrutinise them for neglect, or be upset that the heap of a barn had not met their expectations. The Park People decided they would print larger photos of the barn that they could set in front of the ruin and hide it. To ensure meeting everyone’s expectations, the photo would contain a combination of sunsets and sunrises from different photographs of the barn so as to give a fair representation of what it could be like. They made the mountains look even larger so as to account for being printed on a two dimensional surface, and they made the barn look older and ‘extra humble’ so that the HD printing didn’t make it look too grand. The Park People put this photo up, obscuring the ruin, and once again people’s expectations were met. More happy comments on the barn’s website came in from visitors saying that their photos they had taken on their visit, matched the ones they’d seen online.

As technology improved, the photograph was reinstalled onto a digital screen. The photo now shone down onto the faces of its spectators, shrouding their faces in light. It also beamed out to the rest of the world so others could see what the barn looked like from far, far away. This was most convenient for people who wanted to visit the barn but couldn’t. It was also convenient for the Park People because it worked out as an advert to encourage people from further a far to come and see it, bringing in more tourists.

The barn behind the screen was never refurbished as they worked out it would be more efficient to spend money on improving the screen spectacle. The Park People tweaked the appearance of the barn until it sparkled in humbleness. They made the sky so dynamic that it was almost apocalyptic. They made the mountains so mighty that they didn’t just tower over the barn, but towered over the visitors too. Critics said it was like a Hollywood poster, nevertheless tourists continued to stream in.

 

By Calypso Keane

 

 

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I first read about The Most Photographed Barn in America in Don DeLillo’s book White Noise. The character in the book, Murray, observes people observing and photographing the barn. DeLillo observes Murray observing the observed phenomenon, which the reader then observes. Murray claims that it becomes impossible to see the barn after having seen the signs to the barn. The barn is no longer a barn, but becomes the sign of a barn – it is no longer used as a barn, but visited and viewed as a barn. In John Urry’s book The Tourist Gaze he talks about how places are gazed upon by huge numbers of tourists and end up becoming fake versions of themselves. How tourism “is a kind of contemporary pilgrim[age], seeking authenticity in other ‘times’ and other ‘places’”. To cope with mass tourism “the people being observed… construct backstages… [and] “staged authenticity” to please the tourist (Urry, p9, 1990). Images produced by the media and language used, show the public specific ideas of what is authentic. Local people must then meet these expectations and exaggerate their own culture through staged authenticity. The exaggeration increases as more images are produced, and the word authentic becomes repeatedly reused as if to prove authenticity because what is shown to be authentic, is not authentic anymore: the word destroyed its own meaning and authenticity no longer exists. Everything becomes a copy of itself: “emptied of meaning, a thoroughly commercialised cliché” (Urry, p11, 1990)… which is what has happened to the barn.

Anyway, it turns out the barn doesn’t just exist in DeLillo’s White Noise, but in real life too. The ‘real’ Most Photographed Barn in America is a cluster of barns on an old Mormon homestead that sits in front of the Teton Range in Wyoming. I’m not entirely sure which one came first – presumably the book, or if the book influenced the fame of this barn in Wyoming?

Real Extract from a blog I read about the barn in Wyoming:

“Later, a man and a woman with two small boys who were dressed alike appeared at the barn to be photographed in front of it. I want to believe the picture is for their Christmas card but only they know their reasons for being there.The Moulton barn not only brings people together but also I think provides meaning for visitors too. Perhaps it reminds us of the hard work of the Moulton family and those early Mormon settlers who once fought to survive on this rough stretch of land. Or perhaps it’s simply the beauty of a small, humble barn embraced by powerful mountains and an incredible sky that calls so many to attend. Whatever the reason, I too feel humbled standing in this place, filled with a sense of awe, and grateful for the privilege to make a photograph of this spectacular moment in time.”(Craig Varjabedian, 2013)

 

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