If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know that I live in rural Indiana. Living here and wrangling photographs from what is—let’s face it—not the first place you think of when you’re looking for places to photograph is something I’ve been doing for a long time. The quest to find the extraordinary in the ordinary forms the the basis for my book, Close to Home: Finding Great Photographs in Your Own Back Yard. My philosophy has always been to open your eyes to your surroundings and look deeply into the place where you live.
Sometimes that view can be ugly. Because of the recession and the problems in the housing market, there are several homes in the area that have been foreclosed upon—and in some cases, completely abandoned by their owners. I drive by these houses on a daily basis on my commute to work and I’ve always been interested in learning more about them. Inspired by the launch of Rear Curtain—a new photographic storytelling web site curated by my friends Ray Ketcham, Sabrina Henry and Matt Connors—I decided this weekend to start a photography project to document these homes and perhaps tell a story of economic hardship and loss.
What I found what was a completely different story.
This house was abandoned by its owners about 18 months ago. I don’t know how or why it happened. One day they were there; the next they weren’t. (If it’s been foreclosed, the bank apparently wasn’t worried about getting their money out of it, since it’s never been for sale or rent.) It sits along a lightly traveled county road, making it an easy target for vandals. All of the windows are broken, the back door hangs open, and it’s been through two winters in this condition. Sad that it came to this, no?
But the vandalism has exposed something, at least to me, that many of us might think shouldn’t possibly exist at the beginning of the 21st century. Something beyond just trashing an abandoned house. Something ugly.
Pure, unadulterated hate.
The words on that wall are a shocking reminder that we still have so far to go, even in an age where we can be more educated and enlightened than ever before. Darkness still exists, and it’s out there. It’s in my neighborhood and yours, no matter how things seem on the surface. The fact that these words are inside the house speaks volumes, and it saddens me to know that someone living somewhere near me has these words in their heart. It shows me a wholly different view of “close to home.”