Forgotten Iowa: A Brief Retrospective
I think my fascination with this kind of architecture is the kind of imagery it elicits in my head. I almost instinctively think about kids running around the yards, parents getting home from work and stressing about the bills, mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges; the electric hum from streetlights signaling all the neighborhood kids that it’s time to get home. I think about all the care it takes to maintain a home and have a strange curiosity about the circumstances that occur between then and now.
I have two specific stories on opposite ends of the spectrum and I’m going to talk about both. My parents bought a house when I was a kid and it was typical midwestern middle-class fare. My mom’s neurotic tendencies kept the place upright and presentable. When they got divorced, my dad had to maintain it himself (with the assistance of his parents) and it didn’t take long for it to fall into a state of disrepair (especially with a gaggle of kids that just destroyed stuff for the sake of it). Once, a buddy of mine blew the toilet up with a bottle rocket. Another time, a fork was kicked like a hacky sack and splintered our front room window like an angry ex-girlfriend to a windshield. One time further, hormones and testosterone flowing through my blood, I stepped up to my dad and he pushed me through a wall. We had a four foot hole in the living room for about six years, just sitting there almost like a reminder to not try again. Later on, some other family bought the house and really did an impressive remodel. To this day, I wonder what it looks like in there. I once knocked on the door and asked if I could see and was met with a door in my face. C’est la vie.
So anyway, that’s the antithesis of what I find interesting about these properties. Here’s one that clues me in.
My grandparents bought their home for $4,000 and it was already old and rotted away back in the 1960’s. They spent decades chipping away and fixing things and, by the time I was born, had restored it to a state that, in my opinion, resembled home more than any other I’d ever experienced. There were caveats, sure, like having no option but to have a washing machine and dryer in the kitchen (there was simply no space to put it anywhere else). This meant that the summertime was a brutal affair. Ever the penny pinchers, they very rarely turned the air-conditioner on and my grandma had a steadfast routine with laundry and dinner (always at the same time). If it was ninety degrees outside, it was at least one hundred and ten in there. Still, though, all the kids loved it over there. We spent the majority of our time sweating, but we were well fed and our clothes were never dirty. Grandma was a champ like that.
When my grandma died and my grandpa could no longer take care of himself alone, he left the house empty for a number of years. In that short time, it had already fallen apart. The staircase that my grandpa built with his own hands had almost completely caved in. The kitchen had no character left, my grandma’s 1970's-era floral wallpaper covered in a drab blue paint and all of her essential kitchen essentials replaced and given away to god knows who. What once housed so much soul now resembled a hospital waiting room. It even smelled like one. I never liked going there once she passed and I don’t think my grandpa missed leaving it.
It still remains there to this day, but it’s hardly livable. It looks exactly like these buildings, actually, and when I happen to stroll by it, I can’t help but think of my own youth. The buzzing of the streetlights, the late nights playing Nintendo and Playstation, all the Thanksgiving dinners and the endless hours of cards, conversation, and community. It didn’t take very long to go from one place to the next and I assume the same is true for all the buildings I photograph.
I find a certain kind of nostalgia and happiness photographing these places. I also feel a sadness and distance at the same time.
Anyway, I shot these today and reflected upon it while I was editing. Seemed worthy to share.
So I did.