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Northwest Iowa man travels state to make barn images

Jan. 15, 2014 | 0 comments

FORT DODGE, IA (AP)

To gather the images for his recently released calendar of barn photographs, Roger Feldhans, of Pomeroy, has to do a bit of traveling.

"I drive 3,000 miles a month," he said. "I never leave the state."

Photographing barns and other rustic settings has been a subject of passion for Feldhans since college. He said he used to sell many of his images to calendar companies and other users of stock art.

"It helped pay the bills," he told The Messenger of Fort Dodge. "I had a lot of good success."

Like many photographers the rise of digital technology — which has now left film a memory for most — changed the way he worked.

"I went into it kicking and screaming," Feldhans said, "It was just ratty looking."

That's changed as digital cameras have improved. He now embraces the digital world fully.

"You can do so much in the camera," he said. "Most of my processing is done in the field."

He does that by plugging the camera into a tablet for the larger screen.

"I'm old, and I can't see the screen," he joked.

The images in his calendar are taken with a bridge camera — a model that falls halfway been a point-and-shoot snapshot model and a full-sized digital SLR.

"It's to show that anybody can do this," he said.

When he teaches classes or helps newcomers to photography, he always reminds them that images are made in the photographers' brain; the camera is just a tool.

"It's what you see and how you see it that's important," he said.

The inspiration to produce the calendar came from friends who encouraged him to find a way to present some of the thousands of barn images in his collection.

Feldhans said he's found that people respond well to barns.

"People have an attachment to them," he said. "It says, `This is Iowa.'"

As he travels through the state seeking out the classic structures, he often meets people along the way who help him - sometimes a tip to an old barn, sometimes he's found they paid for his gas. On one occasion, a barn owner brought Feldhans meatloaf sandwiches as he was taking pictures.

"There are some absolutely amazing people," he said. "They just want you to keep doing what you're doing."

Feldhans is careful to always obtain permission to enter private property to photograph if he can't he takes pictures from the road. Some of those he asks will ask him why he wants to take pictures of their barn.

"I tell them, you see this every day," he said. "I try to show them how I see their barn, they get to see the beauty that I'm seeing."

He often finds that once at the site of a building, it's more than just a structure - many of them tell a story.

"You feel like you're not the only one in there," he said.

Barns often contain traces of the people who built and used them.

"You see a lot of handprints," he said. "One barn had a set of handprints and footprints in the cement — the whole family did it."

He also managed to amass a collection of something else during his travels.

"I now have a plat book from each county in Iowa," he said.

Feldhans' calendar contains a large color image for each month and several smaller images in black and white. For fans of his work, it's a prelude to his next project.

A coffee table book of barn images that will not only have images of the structures but also details about their location, stories about the building and anecdotes from his travels.

He still has some roads to travel before he's ready to put it together.

"There are some parts of the state I want to get to," he said. "I don't want people to say 'He didn't go far enough.'"

That also includes going back to photograph the barns in different seasons or in different light -something that in some cases is impossible.

"At least 26 of them are gone," he said.

Some fall victim to age and decay, some to fire and some to economic reality.

"It's the taxes and the land being valuable," he said.

The calendars are available at a cost of $12 or two for $20. They can be purchased at Choice Printing or by contacting Feldhans through Facebook.

Proceeds from the calendars will be used to keep the project going, he said.

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