Following images ©Justin L. Stewart. Do not use without proper licensing.
Last spring my roommate Luke told me about some condemned houses near Columbia Community College. He said he was going to photograph them and he wanted to know if I was interested in joining. It was a warm spring afternoon and, seeing a good opportunity to delay any work that was beckoning me, I said yes and we drove over to Rodgers Street, parking in the new parking spots at Douglas Park.
We wandered through each of the condemned houses, photographing and discussing why these houses might have been condemned, wondering where their former occupants had gone and why anyone would feel the need to spray paint a penis on the wall.
We found some names and discussed trying to track some of the people down to figure out what had happened — why their houses were condemned and why they had left so much behind — but, with the spring semester being the hell it was, we never got around to it, just like this post.
I think there's always a fear related to photographing something like this. It's not that it's scary to shoot, but that you're wondering if there will be blow back. The words "ruin porn" like to be thrown around willy nilly, and I'm not keen on being associated with them.
This isn't the first time I've documented housing that people were forced out of. I think it's an important thing to photograph. It raises important questions. Why did this happen? Why are so many things left behind? Was this fair? Are the people OK? What if something like this happened to me? What would I take and what would I leave behind?
These experiences leave so many questions and feel so strange. Spices still sit in the spice rack, a mother of the year award lies among abandoned family photos and hangers, a plastic flower rests in a bathroom sink, a portrait of a clown rest among a pile of kitty litter boxes — why? How?
I think the fear of being shamed for photographing this was one of the reasons this never made it up before. In the end, I suppose, you have to just take the good with the bad. If someone is going to call this "ruin porn," there's not much I can do about that. But maybe others will see what I see and experience what I experienced. That's the hope, at least.
These make me feel. I hope they make you feel, too.
|A pile of family photographs and clothing hangers lie among shards of broken glass with a certificate that says "Mother of the Year Award" in one of the condemned houses on along Rodgers Street.|