Vernacular Architecture, One Exposure At A Time
In our Fall 2014 issue of Preservation magazine, we highlight a body of work shot by veteran photographers Steve Gross and Susan Daley over a period of several decades. As prolific fine art and commercial photographers, much of Gross and Daley’s output during their 30-year career has focused on historic houses, gardens, and interiors.
But while criss-crossing the country to shoot far-flung locations ranging from New Mexico to Louisiana to the Catskills, the duo were compelled to photograph the many unassuming buildings dotting the American landscape -- emblems of vernacular architecture.
“Whenever possible, we drive along secondary roads and on the bypassed older highways, usually in rural places and especially in the South, keeping an eye out for any interesting or obsolete commercial or public buildings such as roadhouses, feed stores, dance halls, tourist cabins, small churches, or vintage barber shops,” Gross and Daley say.
They explain that they shot these structures using medium-format cameras and black-and-white film, a method which “brings out the idiosyncratic handmade details and textures often seen and relished in vernacular design.”
Here, we highlight some of the photos from that series that we simply couldn’t fit into the pages of the magazine. While some of the structures are still in use, many have since been boarded up or abandoned. All represent bygone eras in America’s agricultural and rural history.
“Plain and humble, they are human and intimate in their scale,” Gross and Daley say of the common threads that link the structures. “They appeal because of their familiar forms that have a sense of character, directness, and certainty about them.”
Church near Avery Island, Louisiana. This church is set up on blocks, and Gross and Daley explain that buildings like these were often moved around to different locations. The open slatting of the bell tower helped to provide ventilation to the structure in the hot climate.
Store building with Masonic insignia, Rockbridge County, Virginia. “The false front of the building gives a larger-than-life appearance,” Gross and Daley say. “This was often done on stores to make them more visible, especially if they were near railroad tracks. The large rooms upstairs could be used as Masonic meeting places or for other events.”