Photo Essay

A House is Not a Home

The Eleventh Commandment

On a recent road trip to Chicago, we stopped in Northwest Indiana to visit family. Not far from where we were staying was the house that I grew up in... the house of horrors. We woke up early Saturday morning and I had a burning need to see it once more... to bring to this viewing age and maturity and a more forgiving heart. When we got there, it wasn't enough to just look. I had to photograph it. I felt I needed some sort of proof that it was there, that it did happen, that it was my truth.

When we returned, I processed the images and emailed them to my brothers and sister with a note about the trip and the reason for the images. Their responses were as varied as are their personalities. It also led to several long conversations about the why of it. And during those conversations, it occurred to me that my ever-expanding folder of abandoned houses was born of our sorrow and our pain. These images help me to validate my feelings... to record digitally what it felt like to be brought up in a house that was not a home... in a house that, with every image nuance, mirrored what I felt as a child entombed in those rooms.

The wide-eyed child was me. I feared what came next. This had no rhyme or reason. So I would duck and hide and peer through door cracks to see if he was coming for me. The distortion of the first image is what a five year old sees, frightening and looming. As I look through my images, I see that many include windows and doors and twisted shapes. I think I am drawn to them because each represents escape even though there was no where to run. The rule that governed our lives was; nobody in, nobody out. The windows were our eyes. We looked out but no one looked back. We were prisoners in the house that was not a home.

The image of the toy on the overturned chair was something I needed to shoot. It is an image of how disarticulated my child and my world really were. It is innocence in the vortex of insanity. And from the eye of the destruction came the external light... a promise that if we passed through the fire, we would be saved. What we lived was as twisted and sick as the distorted stairway in the image.

And the perpetrators of this carnage were upstanding church folk... youth leaders and Sunday school teachers who sang in the choir and praised the Lord and, without batting an eye, drug us back into hell day after day and one by one. The image of the cross surrounded by red gives voice to the words that remained unspoken for many years. It was a daily battle of good and evil. A battle we were far too young to understand. So, believing what we were taught in Sunday school, we'd lift our faces to heaven and pray that God would rescue us.

He never did.

And when it was over, we were as beaten and worn as the door in the final abandoned image. We all escaped the house that was not a home, but the saving light was now waning. Was it too late? So little time to bandage the wounds. So little time to make sense of it all.

The final photo is that house... and I remember.

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21 responses

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (2 Jan 2012):

    Story of the Week!

  • Marco Martinez

    Marco Martinez gave props (2 Jan 2012):

    Wow. As I read through the narrative, I had all these questions. I could ask , but refrain from doing so. This is your story. It is your turn to speak, to make sense of it. We all need to make peace with that which haunts us. It looks like you already have done so, or have started the process. Thanks for sharing.

  • sandra d'souza

    sandra d'souza gave props (3 Jan 2012):

    the most deserving story...congrats bailey...

  • elle

    elle gave props (5 Jan 2012):

    Congrats... thank you for sharing

  • David Jeffries

    David Jeffries gave props (5 Jan 2012):

    Fantastic, as I read my mind wonders to similar experiences. So distant yet so close. Thanks for stirring the innermost feelings of everyone!!!

  • Carol Holmes

    Carol Holmes gave props (5 Jan 2012):

    Congratulations on a wonderful photo essay! :)

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (5 Jan 2012):

    This was a complete surprise. I mean... shut the front door kinda' caught off guard. Many are offended by this type of exposure and honesty but it is necessary and it is cathartic. Thanks all for your kind words and support and thank you JPG for your appreciation of what makes me, well... me.

  • Litz Go

    Litz Go gave props (5 Jan 2012):

    This is a very moving photo essay. You deserved the recognition. Very well done, Bailey!

  • Niharika Sanyal

    Niharika Sanyal gave props (6 Jan 2012):

    A very moving narrative and thank you for sharing it with us. Wonderful portrayal through photography of so many emotions. Congratulations!

  • tania medina

    tania medina gave props (8 Jan 2012):

    Voted! Great story, awesome photos!

  • Sonia Adam Murray

    Sonia Adam Murray gave props (10 Jan 2012):

    Confratulations on being voted story of the week, you deserve it. It must have been a tough story to achieve!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper gave props (11 Jan 2012):

    Again, thanks all for your comments and support. I am honored.

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (4 Mar 2012):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • Arthur Chauvin

    Arthur Chauvin (Deleted) said (18 Mar 2012):

    ...reminds me of a college photo project I did in 1969 "upon a broken home"

  • Yaz Hawkins

    Yaz Hawkins gave props (25 Mar 2012):

    Wow! You got my vote!

  • Arthur Chauvin

    Arthur Chauvin (Deleted) said (16 Apr 2012):

    I read your story a 2nd time...just as touching.

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (10 Jul 2012):

    How small the world is, and how we all hide painful memories, but some of us finally want to tell the world what we kept hidden for years. Your story is so painful, that I need to buried it with the rest of my own darkness, and yet again I am back to your quote "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." Now it makes sense, and my heart fly's to you one more time.
    You played indeed with my feelings today, voted!

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (26 Sep 2013):

    FAB & so beautiful!

  • Deborah Downes

    Deborah Downes gave props (29 Jan 2014):

    I feel like I'm about to burst from the mix of emotions I'm feeling over this incredible essay. You are a powerful voice for all survivors and there are so many kinds throughout the world. I was once a victim, too. The two times I lived in China played major roles in helping me sort out my twisted past, regain my voice, and move forward. Writing a memoir of that journey, plus how China impacted my creativity. Greatly appreciate your honesty, my friend; deeply admire your work. Sending big warm hugs.

  • Scott Emery

    Scott Emery said (28 Oct 2014):

    Courageous, touchingly expressive and inspiring, to my mind. That you have found this marvelous level of creative art, melding image and word into more than the two is a testament to some sort of innate belief in yourself and in humanity - despite it all - that survived those terrifying days of your youth. This authentic essence, and the will to express it is the kernel of your art - a word I try not to use lightly - cultivated through mature and carefully observed experience and obvious technical mastery. A beautiful and grippingly honest photo-essay journey.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (2 Nov 2014):

    Scott ~ When I was an undergraduate, Ethics was a degree requirement. I was 38 at the time and still living with the secret. The prof would present a case during the first class of the week. The second class would be spent discussing it.

    On this particular morning we discussed capital punishment. The case involved a 16-year-old boy who was on trial for killing his father with a shotgun. The father was a monster and during one of his mother's beatings the boy snapped. The majority of the class wanted him to fry. Not ONE person talked about what they had suffered. Not ONE person wanted to know why.

    That was the day I found my voice. I raised my hand and out it came. Talk about a pindrop moment. And then the hour was over. As I was gathering my things, the prof said he wanted to speak to me after class. He chastised me for speaking out and told me I should never, ever do that again. His rationale: You never know who might cross you path again... perhaps as a superior. It could have negative effects in the future.

    Regardless of his warning, my final paper was about abuse and molestation. He gave me an A+ and wrote a note asking that I meet him in his office. He apologized and he thanked me.

    Telling is NEVER the wrong answer.

    Thank you, Scott, for your endless support and for saying OUT LOUD somebody has our back.

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