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  1. #1

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    How do I locate property owners?

    I live in a small town in Iowa. The more I drive around and look at things, the more I feel a need to photograph the old farm buildings I see. They are disappearing fast. These buildings, some over 100 years old, are a thing of the past. The old wood barns & brick silos are being torn down daily. The way the light moves around & through these old buildings is really beautiful. The newer metal buildings, while better for the farmers, are not nearly as beautiful. They just donít jive with the land as well.

    Iím just starting out with a personal project photographing the old buildings with an 8x10 camera. When I see one that Iíd like to photograph I make note of it. If itís near a house, Iíll sometimes stop & knock to ask for permission to come back. Most of these buildings are not near homes. Most are right off the road, nestled in a corn or bean field. How would/should I go about asking permission to photograph these places when I have no idea who to ask? What do you do in a situation like this? Do you hunt down the owner, or just make some photographs without asking?

  2. #2
    geraldatwork's Avatar
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    I would continue as you are doing. Going to nearby houses to ask permission or get info. If there are no houses nearby and the barns are just off the road I would go ahead and just take the photograph. It might be a good idea to keep a portfolio of some kind with you so if by chance somebody questions you you can show it to them. If in the future the photographs are included in a book or for some other commercial purpose I think you will need some kind of permission or release. Photos of buildings on private property taken from public property (municipal roads) usually don't need permission even for commercial purposes.

    I'm a commercial real estate broker in New York and when I need to find out info about a property I go to the local town or village hall whose jurisdiction the property is in. This is all public information and the officials will give it to you. They usually have the name and address of the property owner or information of the person paying the taxes. Just keep good notes as to location of the photographs if you need it in the future.

  3. #3

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    Go early. This time of year most of the field work is done so you can find someone home. Probably no later than 9:00am. Go to the house and ask permission. Take the 8x10 up to the door with you and explain your desire to document the buildings. it would not hurt to have some examples of your work.

    If the place looks abandonend, go to the nearest new looking home. There is a good chance that is the owners home and they have build a new house and probably one large machine shed that takes the place of all the old structures.

    Go to other neighbors. They may own the land now or lease the property. They may give you permission or direct you to the right people.

    Go into town. Go to the restaurant, cafe, or McDonalds with the most pick-up trucks. (most farmers I know do not use SUVs). Many farmers will meet up for coffee every morning. if you give them the address of the location, there is a good chance that one of them will know the owner or somethng of the property.

    Take time to listen to people and ask questions about the property. Maybe its history, age of structures etc. Your interest should extend beyond just making a picture. if yo show a sincere interest in the subject people are more likely to give permission to be on the property.

    There is always going to be a few crumeudgeons. If they say no just forget it and go to the next place.

    Finally, take some dog treats in the car. Almost every farm has dog(s). If you drive up to the door of the house and get out, they may bark but are usually always friendly. The dogs know that people come and go and recognize this and may be wary but respectful. A dog treat is just a way to say hello. What the dog(s) don't like is someone sneeking around the property where only the owners would be.

    Also check the machine shed. If no one is in the house and not out in the field they are probably working on machinery.

    Have fun, hope this gives you some ideas.
    "Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
    Robert Adams

  4. #4

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    All excellent ideas. Thanks Jim.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim68134
    Take time to listen to people and ask questions about the property. Maybe its history, age of structures etc. Your interest should extend beyond just making a picture. if yo show a sincere interest in the subject people are more likely to give permission to be on the property.
    I think this is the most important thing. The more I know about the structure, the better my photographs seem to be. It's easier to find it's "soul". Some of those old farm wives sure can talk a lot.

  5. #5

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    hi matt ..

    i do historic preservation work a lot of the time, and have had situations similar to what you describe. the advice you have been given is really good so far

    i have had pretty good luck doing what geraldatwork suggests - going to the local town hall &C and looking up the propery owner's name there. there are always plot maps, insurance maps ( like sandborn maps ) as well as voting & tax records with the town canvasser or clerk's office. at the a local library, you might also find reverse phonebooks and "street directories".

    another thing you might look into is finding out who the local planner/ historic preservation officer is, because often times they have programs & grant $$$ to give people that do documentation projects and "record" this sort of stuff

    good luck!

    - john

  6. #6
    kwmullet's Avatar
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    To a certain extent, many places have their central appraisal district records online, so if you have an address or an address range, that will may you pin down the owner and the owner's contact info. Another thing that's useful, at least around here, is zoning maps. Our zoning maps are linked with remote sensing satelite data, so you can click on aerial views and drill down until you get the information on a particular parcel of land. That's particularly useful if you don't know/can't determine the actual address. If a given area has no 911 service, chances are that may be no physical address. Google is your friend, here.

  7. #7
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Check with the county clerk or assessor. Many counties have plat books or maps available for sale that show land ownership and have maps that are useful for navigation.

  8. #8
    Dave Parker's Avatar
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    Even if your not in a forest area, try and get a hold of a forest service map or a BLM map of the area, many of these maps will have the names of the owners printed on them, I know out west here, we use these maps to find owners so we can ask permission to hunt or take pictures, BLM has maps of most areas of the country.

    Dave

  9. #9
    billschwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Jones
    Many counties have plat books or maps available for sale that show land ownership and have maps that are useful for navigation.
    I've done this many times and it is the way to go. Find the property on the plat book, go to the assessor's office and they will give you the owner's name, address and phone number. Abandoned property may be CFR of CE for lower tax purposes. Property that is privately owned, but designated "Commercial Forest Reserve" or "Conservation Easement" is pretty much fair game. A stipulation for the lower tax rate on these properties is that they remain open to the public... At least, this is what I have been advised.

    Bill

  10. #10
    John Bartley's Avatar
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    As far as I know, tax rolls are unversally available for reference. While it may take a bit of learning how to use them, they will have to contain the names of the owners as opposed to the occupant. There should be no charge for casual use of the rolls.

    EDIT :: Bill - ya snuck in just ahead of me

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