What leads a family’s decision as they decide to stand up, open their door and walk out, leaving everything behind? Forgotten homes sit scattered across our country like eerie time capsules filled with stories, rotting away under the unforgiving power of nature.
What influences some of us in our lives to simply walk away from a place once thriving with so much life and color? Our world is littered with forgotten pieces of former days strewn about, like a shaken container full of Legos, lying brittle, broken and lost.
Through photographic documentation, I attempt to search out these locations, uncovering their history and sharing these buried stories, so that they may remain part of our known history. I believe there is a heavy importance in truly seeing what we throw away, bringing attention to the small details of a future gone unplanned.
Dinner remains, having grown moldy sat atop a now broken, filthy dining room table. The old corded phone still hangs neatly in place, covered in years of dust, neglected by humans. We were here once, but now all seems to have been lost, forever stuck in time.
Slipping down a long driveway between tall, winding forest surrounding me, I eventually found myself gazing up at broken doors and a collapsed roof, welcoming me inside with an eerie aura as raindrops pitter-pattered the crumbling devastation brought by nature to this once lively abode.
As I entered, directly to my left I found quite an insane sight. From one end of the room to the other sat a life’s collection of books, from novels to cook books, short stories and more. It seemed as though the man living here may have been studying medicine, as a good collection of these reference teachings of the medical field.
The ceiling had mostly become collapsed under the weight of passing years, from bombardment by the elements bearing down upon it until it finally had given up. I continued to treacherously navigate the warped and broken floors, soft with rain, until reaching a bathroom near back of the hallway. Curtains hung tattered, twisted and dark with mold, resembling something you might see in you favorite horror film.
Towels remain neatly placed on their respective hanging bars, untouched by a single human since the 1990s, now collecting dirt and dust with the passing of time. So many signs of human life remain scattered, showcasing how this family lived and who they were. A lonely pair of glasses remains placed above the sink, hanging beside a crumbled and thrashed newspaper, as if that may have been sat down the day all was left.
Stumbling through the clutter and various pieces left behind, it is exciting to pull everything together, and attempting to recreate a lively scene to truly look into the spirit they left behind. I say spirit, but in this case I am not necessarily referring to a death.
What I am referencing is simply my belief, that when so much is left behind, in a way, their complete lives linger here waiting to tell a silent story to the small audience taking time to listen. Witnessing these places, through the silence and emptiness; this makes my mind wander, and I love that about it.
A mother makes breakfast as the morning sunrise beams over the horizon, crossing a vast and flourishing country field to peak through kitchen windows. A warm, golden haze paints the room, as the smell of bacon and maple syrup coats the fresh wood grain cabinets and vinyl-tiled floor on the inside.
Outside, the sun casts heavy shadows among the barns front, and the land lays blanketed in sparkling, prismatic orbs of dew refracting the ambient beams of 7 am sunlight. A flutter of blue jay wings whooshes through branches outside the children’s bedroom windows. They are awoken to life, chirping and peeking in through the glass, and the delicious smell of a warm breakfast climbing the stairs to fill their room.
Quickly, they jump out of bed to rush downstairs and join mother and father at the breakfast nook where the family pet, a golden retriever, will join them as well in the begging for table scraps.
After breakfast, they will join in the living room, where the dog will chew on his bones, the children will play with model airplanes or a board game, and mother and father will sip their coffee while reading the newspaper.
In the midst of playing, the children will throw the airplane to the ceiling, watching it soar across the room, and straight into a wall, cracking a small section of paint. Father will then take the model airplane to be fixed, and will leave his newspaper on top of a bookcase that sits beside him. This newspaper will quickly be forgotten, and left on top for years to come.
Mother always leaves her coffee cup in the same enclave atop the kitchen counter, but some day the family may move along from this spot, so what will happen of this simple coffee mug? What will happen with the model airplane that father never got around to quite fixing?
As we fast-forward a few years, the children have grown older now, and rummaging through some old boxes they happen to find the long lost toy. Seeing as how they are no longer little children, they decide to fix it for themselves. Once fixed, the airplane will be put on a type of display, centered on the dresser of a bedroom.
As nighttime now approaches, they will climb into soft, warm beds adorned with intricate carvings throughout the wooden structure and layering of soft, white, cloud-like blankets. A small lamp sets the room to an orange glow while the children, now in their mid-teens wrap themselves in a cocoon of warmth and open the crisp pages of a book. In the morning, everything will start again as it has since they were young.
Years passed, seasons changed, the children grew older, and parents grew more tired. This once shining, fresh home began to lose its structure, falling to a state of grey from the elements around it, so they began heading towards an upgrade. Around 1985, the family bids a final farewell to their home for a fresh adventure, to settle down in a new dwelling.
The kitchen sits void of life as the morning sun now shines over a colorless, lifeless field as it rises above the horizon, and same as any other morning, pushes itself through the kitchen window. Only now, nobody is present; the room sits quietly, covered in dust.
The same golden haze still paints the room as it always has, however all the sun has to light are the musty floors, dusty cabinets, and shiny cobwebs strung over the kitchen sink. Cracks cross along the now fogged window’s view, while the only smell filling the air is that of rotting dilapidation. The scent of bacon hasn’t graced this room in years.
Residing in the space outside of the barn lays a burnt méridienne, or Chaise-esque settee bench propped up on two remaining legs.
Outside the upstairs bedroom window, there is a flutter of many wings throughout the now over grown tree, but no children inside are waking. Life peeks through the glass and says hello, but life doesn’t respond back. Nobody is jumping out of beds, and nobody is downstairs waiting in the breakfast nook, other than the occasional raccoon or a family of squirrels who have transformed it into their own little nesting.
In this version of time, there is no golden retriever, nor any table scraps to beg for. The living room floor is far too littered with glass and debris to play on anymore, and old newspapers lay scattered from one end to the other. The section of cracked paint that was never repaired now spreads throughout the wall in a spider-webbed effect and the newspaper from 1979 sits atop the bookcase covered in dust. The airplane still sits atop the wooden dresser, painted with must, and decay. A coffee mug is stashed in a collapsed cupboard while chipped fragments of its edges float through the cabinet.
As night falls on the land, nobody will be crawling into the bed that now sits host to the wetness of rain and decay of summer’s heat. The room will no longer be lit a soft orange, but instead a softer blue from the moons natural and radiant light. The orb way out in the night sky will shine across the sheets and dresser, reflecting off of metallic beads, which lay strewn atop the bed.
The crisp pages of books are now tattered and torn, littered about the floorboards, and as the owl hums his nightly tune, the home and the moon wave goodnight to each other. It will all start just the same in the morning, repeating again and again, until someone visits to hear the stories the foundation has to tell. This is exactly what we are doing. We are listening. Can you hear that? Open your eyes, open your mind, and open your ears.
One can only question themselves as to why they left so many possessions behind, and all we can do is attempt to look through the eyes, heart, and soul through darkness and decay of the once inhabited. And though the eyes are closed shut, while the beating heart of this home has come to a halt, we can still gather a story from the pieces and colors of its remaining soul, telling tales of a lifetime of adventure.
The balance of nature will always work against what we leave behind, reclaiming it in sporadic and unforgiving ways. Without preserving the things that we have created, we will be left with only a crumbling reminder of what once was and could have been.
A prismatic view refined by the aesthetic merging of nature’s rapacious, unforgiving beauty with our architectural craft; an alluring image of how the Earth will always take back what once belonged to it.
About the author: Johnny Joo is a 24-year-old photojournalist from Cleveland, Ohio who documents the forgotten areas of our world. Visit his website here.