Nostalgia Now: “Barns of the Berkshires”
Photographs by Stephen Donaldson
Stephen Donaldson is a photographer who thinks like a cultural anthropologist. His latest book, Barns of the Berkshires (Schiffer Publishing, $24.95), not only documents a significant and vanishing part of our rural landscape but also sounds the alarm for saving barns before it’s too late. “The old post and beam barns don’t stand a chance,’ he says sadly. “They give no value to the farmer anymore.’ Donaldson laments that only wealthy people can afford to maintain the historic barns of the Berkshires, whether they’re kept for farm animals and storage or converted into residences. “If we don’t mobilize, we are going to lose the very essence of what is so appealing about living here,” he says.
Over the past ten years, he has photographed scores of Berkshire barns and he says that when he goes back to photograph them in another season they’ve sometimes disappeared. He thinks the best way to save landmark barns would be to establish not-for-profit roadside trusts dedicated to their maintenance. In his nostalgic photographs, he makes clear that every barn is site specific; he believes barns should be kept in their native landscapes to honor their history. It’s impossible to deny his contention that barns are essential to the “visual fabric of the region that makes it such an appealing place for both visitors and those seeking an alternate lifestyle to the charge-ahead pace of our cities.”
Donaldson, who moved to Great Barrington ten years ago after living in Detroit, England, New York, and LA, traveled around the world from 1995 -1997 to take pictures and establish a stock photography archive. Now he shoots for magazines works on books, and he deejays every Monday night at public radio station WBCR 97.9 (his program is called “The Doctor Nod Sedation Station Program”.) He is taking pictures for his next book, which will chronicle historic Route 7 from Long Island Sound to the Canadian border. And he will continue to champion beleaguered Berkshires barns, which he sees as more than architectural artifacts: “For me the barns are symbols of integrity, wholesomeness, and a down-to-earth ethic that was an essential building block for this country.”