Comments/Context: Taking pictures of abandoned American barns is a dangerous game for a contemporary photographer who wants to be taken seriously. Walk down to any local bookstore and dig around the selection of wall calendars and post cards, and sure enough, "Vermont Barns" or something like it will surface, complete with cloyingly nostalgic shots of dilapidated structures in warm afternoon light, with rusty antique trucks placed just so. Or perhaps you'll uncover the "most photographed barn in America", the famous one framed by the Tetons. In any event, taking on such a subject and not falling into the hackneyed trap of wince-inducing sentimentality is a real challenge.
Thankfully, Peter Kayafas' images of falling down barns and empty houses bring crisp formality and renewed reverence to these forgotten icons of vernacular architecture. His buildings have good bones, and Kayafas has let them stand alone amidst spare skies and broad expanses of grass. Compositionally, his pictures are plainspoken and straightforward, mixing the traditions of Walker Evans and the Bechers, but leaving behind strict rigor and conceptual dryness for a hint of warmth and frontier personality. The prints are bright and sunblasted, filled with the same kind of turned up whiteness seen in the work of Henry Wessel; in conjunction with the grain of the small format negatives, the geometries are at once brightly enhanced and subtly softened, often punctuated by the blackness of a dark window.
Kayafas' approach has stripped these buildings down to elemental forms, highlighting timeless lines and enduring simplicity. His works successfully avoid the obvious pitfalls of the subject matter and instead find a quiet honor in these frugal structures.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Peter Kayafas, Totems
528 West 28th Street
New York, NY 10001