Rural Resiliency in Abandoned Homes of South Dakota

By Abby Bischoff

Resiliency is baked into South Dakota. Our long winters and people whose livelihood is dependant on the land have left a culture of tough and adaptable people. 

Those resilient hands built themselves homes as steadfast as themselves. 

I’ve spent the last seven years documenting the abandoned farm homes of South Dakota. I’ve travelled over 6,000 miles of South Dakota roads looking for homes for my Abandoned: South Dakota photography project

Launched in October 2013, I’ve photographed homes in 63 of the 66 counties in South Dakota. I’ve got one in every county but Lake, Hughes and Stanley counties. 

Photo by Abby Bischoff

Finding the homes has evolved since I started the project. Initially, I would leave finding homes up to chance. I’d make random turns on gravel roads and hope that there’d be a house over the top of the next hill. Now I spend hours in Google Maps, searching for rooftops and planning trips to photograph as many homes as I can get to. 

The noise I make when I spot one is something out of a cartoon –  mixture of excitement and surprise with a high-pitched twist. Few people have heard this noise because I usually make these drives alone. Spotting a new abandoned house immediately sparks my imagination. 

I quickly begin surveying the light, noticing how the sun casts its shadows. I scan the area around it. Is it a wind shelter for cattle? A place to pile junk? Is it neighbors with a windmill? Wrapped up by tree strips? 

Photo by Abby Bischoff

I park my trusty Volkswagen and walk the fence line, starting to compose my shots. Zoom in tight and get the detail of the roof line or the crackling paint or the birds that perch on the empty window frames. Pull back and shoot wide, showing the whole scene as it sits on the prairie. Get down into the grass or shoot it through the fence line to show its stature, it’s presence. Frame it with a tree branch, or a fence post, or the blades of a toppled over windmill. 

I’m certain the same thought that was put into the way I frame my photos, was put into building the homes themselves. Built for holding families warm and safe through South Dakota winters, their durability put through the test of years and storms now sit empty. 

There’s a sense of urgency as I work because they are disappearing – falling under the weight of years of just standing up or burning down to make space for something new. I’ve found the evidence on my trips, a smoldering pile of lumber, a torn up tree strip, freshly plowed ground where my favorite homes once stood. So as the shutter clicks, I take comfort in knowing I found it in time.

That it can’t ever be forgotten because it lives on in photographs.

Abby out in her element!

if you find beauty in the abandoned, and are looking for a great stocking stuffer this holiday season, head over to Abby’s website where you can purchase calendars featuring South Dakota’s Rural Resiliency. Pick yours up here!

2 Replies to “Rural Resiliency in Abandoned Homes of South Dakota”

  1. I just love Abby’s photos! This is such a neat project celebrating the history of South Dakota. I really enjoyed hearing Abby describe the story behind her project when she emcee’d the AIA SD Awards at this year’s convention. Awesome work!

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