An image comes to mind at the mention of the High Plains: an empty but picturesque farmhouse, roof sagging like the back of an old horse, porch falling off the foundation, and screen door swaying in the wind. There’s a wide, exposing sky, and an old windmill tilting toward the West.
what happens when you scratch beneath the surface? What’s
inside the boarded-up buildings and houses that dot the plains from
New Mexico to North Dakota? When were they abandoned, and by whom?
What did people leave behind, and why?
In his new book,
Gone: Photographs of Abandonment on the High
Plains, New Mexico photographer Steve Fitch tries to
answer those questions. For 10 years, Fitch traveled the
hardscrabble High Plains, with his large-format camera, taking
photographs inside abandoned houses and public buildings. Inside,
he found shag carpeting, color televisions, tri-color mattresses,
and spaceship wallpaper. These artifacts of the not-so-distant past
betray the fact that many of these boarded-up homes and public
buildings were abandoned, not 80 or 150 years ago, but less than
By placing the abandonment of homes, schools and
churches within our lifetime, Fitch exposes something the nation
has ignored: Decay, poverty and loss are not things of the past.
According to the most recent census, depopulation in these rural
communities is accelerating: The region has become one of the
poorest in the country, and towns and counties can no longer
support public institutions such as hospitals and schools.
Fitch’s book is a portrait of the heartbreak that
continues to confront communities across a huge swath of middle
America, and a reminder that hard times on the High Plains are not
just a romantic image from a distant past.
Photographs of Abandonment on the High Plains
by Steve Fitch
175 pages, paperback $24.95.
University of New Mexico Press, 2003
An inside look at the <br>hardscrabble plains
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