A House is Not a Home
1 Jan 2012
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.