Retired local pastor finds beauty in barns

by Eric A Thomas

Photo collage/J. Cook

Riding down the highway in almost any area of the rural Midwest, the images of old barns or abandoned farmhouses speckle the landscape.

Their structures can be unique in shape, color or in various stages of disrepair. Each of them has a story to tell and the retired pastor of First Christian Church in Jacksonville hopes to capture a glimpse of that tale with his camera.

Farm life has always appealed to J. Cook. His wife grew up on a farm in Iowa that they visited quite often. “I would see something interesting and tell myself that someday I would stop and get a picture of that … Several years back I remember making myself stop the car and finally took the picture,” Cook says. Cook and his wife, Janie, were traveling through Adams County on Highway 104 when they spotted a rustic, old red barn framed by a configuration of clouds. She encouraged him to stop and take a picture. Beside the camera, something clicked with him, and a hobby was born. That was the summer of 2015 and after that moment, he began searching intentionally and found that there was more out there than he thought.

Even though barns are predominantly his subject matter, other archaic structures like covered bridges, abandoned farmhouses, one-room schoolhouses and tiny country churches have grabbed his attention. “I am intrigued by the histories that seem to whisper throughout these edifices,” he shares. He has taken photographs as far east as South Carolina and as far west as Wyoming. Covered bridges are harder to find in his search. The annual Covered Bridge Festival in Indiana offered a great opportunity to capture this particular structure.

The barns in McDonough County, Illinois are some of his favorites. “That area is loaded with very distinctly built, historic barns,” Cook adds.

In total, he thinks that he has taken between 600 and 700 photographs. His camera of choice has been the Sony Alpha 6000, but there are opportunities that come up when he is not packing his camera, so he has relied on his iPhone 12 and been pleasantly surprised.

The thought of a project such as putting his photographs in book form is daunting to Cook. The idea is great, but how to even tackle such an endeavor can be mind-blowing. “I am a little intimidated as to whether anybody would buy it. I’ve had people request copies of my pictures and I have had people who’ve encourage me to publish … I think publishing a book is much like what got me started taking pictures of barns. You just have to dive in and do it,” Cook concludes.

To see his photographs, “Follow” his Facebook page, “J. Allan Cook.”

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