abandoned virgins

Remains, photo/copyright: Carly Swenson 2011

The sky is cloudy and grey, a light rain seems to turn motionless in the air creating a fine mist. My mother and I walk across a small concrete bridge over the shallow remains of a riverbed. The water is now a gently flowing creek, with only a couple ducks resting in the muddy patches which would have once been covered by a much more impressive flow of water. We walk up the few stairs to a small stone porch overgrown with ivy, weeds and flowers. I peer through a broken glass window of the locked front door. The scent of stale air mixed with mold is noticeable as my eyes adjust to the dim light inside the abandoned house. The room is bare. The walls are empty. The only objects remaining from the previous owners’ abrupt departure are several framed images of the Virgin Mary covered with years of dust and faded from water damage. The scene is haunting. These beautiful works, all depicting variations of the same subject, in ornate antique frames are now hidden away from the world having been arbitrarily left in the corner of this vacant room. It feels the Marys were intentionally left behind, as if the owners had abandoned her as they must have felt she had abandoned them as their home was destroyed, half washed away by the flooded river years before, ripped apart at the foundation…

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Terceira, Azores. Carly Swenson 2012
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Terceira, Azores. Carly Swenson 2011
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Terceira, Azores. Carly Swenson 2012

Terceira has a seemingly endless amount of abandoned buildings, and I adore them. An earthquake struck the island near Angra de Heroismo in 1980. I assume many of the damaged structure were simply left behind in the quake’s aftermath. However, I know a few (like the aforementioned home) were destroyed by other means, such a flood, fire, or simply left deserted. Some owners only live on the island seasonally, or return every few years. Occasionally, their homes fall into disrepair and are abandoned.

I love to explore these derelict remains; they inspire and satisfy a childlike curiosity within me. I frequently wander through these vacant buildings that have fallen into disrepair, left for nature (and vandals) to take their course. I feel like I am walking through an old photograph, as if everything should be in black and white. As I do when looking through antique photos, I can’t help but wonder about the lives once touched by these places. At one time, these structures were new, a home for a family, or a place of business. Each place has its own long forgotten histories of human interactions; how can that not inspire curiosity?

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