The Barn

It was late in the afternoon, and the sunlight was almost horizontal, coming across the open plain to the west. I pulled the car off the side of the main road, took the tripod and camera out of the back seat, and made my way down the dirt road to the barn. The whole place looked deserted, which was good. I had to be in a certain mood to do this kind of work, and having people around could disrupt things pretty fast.

I had been thinking about this shot for a couple of weeks. It had gotten to be an obsession, so it was just as well to get it done with. I took the camera into the barn, stirring up small clouds of dust. The sunlight would catch them well enough. The problem here was the tonal range I had to deal with. I wanted to record the texture of the wood, outlines of farm implements, and then the ecstasy of pure light streaming in across that wide-open expanse, like the light people talk about in those near-death experiences. That bright...

I set the Leica up on the tripod toward the back of the barn.

It would take some doing. Not so much here as in the darkroom. Different areas of the print would have to get different exposures, and it would take hours to get it right.

I had to move the camera again and use a shorter focal length lens. I had to move some stuff around in there as well, because I didn't want things overcluttered. Finally I went back to compose the picture. I was preoccupied doing this and didn't notice the woman until she was inside the barn off to the side. I looked at her standing there. She looked at me. She didn't say anything for a moment, just stood there training a shotgun on me. With an exaggerated slowness, I raised one hand and tipped my hat. She was a pretty woman, but she didn't smile back.

I turned my back on her and got a couple of light meters out of the bag. I suppose I could have explained what I was doing there, which was obvious; or apologized, but it was too late for that and would have been a lie anyway. So I just continued on. I figured she wouldn't shoot me. If she did, I'd deal with it when it happened. You can't worry about stuff like that all the time.

"Well, you're an arrogant son of a bitch."

I nodded in assent. After all, she did hold the shotgun.

"I could blow you to hell and gone and nobody would say a thing."

I cranked the camera about five inches higher, attached the cable release and took the first exposure.

"The least you coulda done was come up to the house and ask."

I motioned her over toward the open door of the barn with my hand. Not the kind of motion that said 'Go away,' but the kind that said 'Move to your right until I tell you to stop.' She looked at me in disbelief, so I just pointed at where I wanted her to stand. She would be silhouetted against the light flooding in through the open door.

Somewhat reluctantly, she moved over toward the doorway and leaned the gun up against the wall, but within easy reach. I was about to walk over and put her in position, but she seemed to know what to do. She stood just slightly away from profile, her hands on the massive door frame looking out across the field. It almost looked like the door frame could have been a man, the way she was leaning into it, slightly.

I took two exposures and then picked up the tripod, moving it to a point closer to the doorway and the young woman standing in it. I surveyed the situation and changed lenses again. This would be a picture where she was the focal point. She struck the same pose, although it didn't look like a pose at all. I took shots from several slightly different angles, not wanting to miss the play of the light on the old wood. And then I looked at her, and she at me. There was another picture here, and we both knew that, I think. I left the tripod where it was and walked unhurriedly up to the girl. She glanced down at the gun for a second, but didn't move. We stood there, twenty-seven inches apart. Finally, after our eyes had met and accepted what they saw, I moved one step closer and unfastened the top button of her dress. She colored slightly as I stepped back. Then I held out both my hands in the form of a basket. She started removing garments, handing them to me one by one until there were none left. I took them to the side and went back to the camera. This time, instead of simply leaning against the door frame, she embraced it with her whole body. She kept changing positions as I took the rest of the roll. I had to envy whoever it was that she was fantasizing about.

The sound of a tractor was now faintly perceptible, coming from the east side of the barn.

"Go now."

I nodded, and gathered up my equipment. I walked past her and up the road, only turning around when I heard her shout.


She was still standing there in the doorway just as I had left her, but she had the shotgun raised high above her head and aimed at the sky. She discharged it, sending a bunch of crows flying out of the trees next to the house.

"Don't talk so much, next time!" she shouted, grinning. I grinned back, got in the car and drove off, wondering if she'd be dressed by the time the tractor arrived.

Evan Sage

Copyright © Evan Sage
March 1996

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Created 1995/8/26. Updated last on 2000/7/17.