Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cabins Cottages & Shacks

I have found that I am drawn to cabins, cottages and shacks of various kinds, alike a moth to light. There is something compelling about these modest buildings and their designs that take hold of my attention. As I write, I am trying to put my finger on why. First, I think, it's the strong nostalgic aspect to them, which is rooted in the colors, materials, location (typically in the woods or along the shore of a lake, stream or river) and, to a great degree, the function (vacation, fishing, hunting, etc.). Nearly every memory of a cabin involves activities in which time is slowed down, like chopping wood for the fireplace, working on a puzzle, staring into the hot coals in the fireplace, sitting on the covered porch and listening to the steady day long drizzle, and so on. If the cabin is on the water, all the better because there are the sounds of the surf and gulls.

My first experience in a cabin was at a summer camp, along the Fox River. It wasn’t a cabin, technically. It was a simple wood framed bunkhouse; aged, a little dank, and dark as night inside even on the brightest days. Other than where it fell, sunlight seemed to be soaked up by the dark wood. On rainy days, we had no choice but to sit patiently and write postcards and read books by flashlight. Once, a bunk mate practiced his accordion while the rain pattered a beat. On sunny days we left the bunkhouse in the morning and didn’t return until it was time to sleep. In the moonlight it seemed brighter that during the day.

Cabins possess an intrinsic honesty. They reflect the character, ingenuity, inspiration, creativity and, sometimes, whimsy of the builder. Of course, that ignores the hard work involved in building them. The best cabins, the really honest cabins, were conceived and built by the owner, who, often inexperienced in either design or construction, does not quite get all the details right. Sometimes the proportions are wrong or the roof pitch is too shallow or there are signs of structural failure. Often, it’s precisely these factors that make these buildings so charming. Accidental poetry, if you will; outsider architecture, I guess. Photographing these structures lets me enjoy them long after seeing them. Documenting a style that is slowly disappearing seems important, some how, at least to me. As land prices rise, the middle class shrinks, the "up north" disappears and building and zoning codes get tighter, the small cabin, the 3-season cottage and the hunting or fishing shack are getting squeezed out and forgotten.

I have started a new blog to remember them. I plan to post new images from time to time: Cabins Cottages & Shacks


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