Photographer captures the beauty of abandoned South Dakota homes
Along a dusty dead end road is a pasture of rolling hills. The horizon stretches as far as the eye can see, and a lone building sits nestled against a row of trees in the distance. Upon closer look, the house is in dire shape — windows broken out, roof sagging and the siding weathered and worn. Cattle scratch their backs on the outside while certainly a raccoon or two have found a home within its four walls. Peeking into the window, a chair still sits in the corner with its match tipped over on its side.
It's an abandoned house, and they're scattered all over South Dakota.
Some may look at these old buildings as an eyesore; a match would take care of the old bones of this structure. For others, it's a piece of history and a reminder of who we are and where we come from.
Abby Bischoff's passion is capturing the beauty of old abandoned structures. In 2010, Bischoff was visiting her parents, Gerald and Janelle (Reimer) Bischoff, at the family's ranch, Ravine Creek Ranch, located north of Huron, S.D.
"My parents were building a new house on the farm near Huron," said Bischoff, who owns a portrait photography business called Flock Studio. "We had lots of conversations in the kitchen of the old house while we were watching the new one be built — about how special the old farm house was to us. It was more than just a home — it was an important character that had been in our family for decades. Later, as I drove back to Sioux Falls, I started noticing abandoned homes."
Like her parents' old farm house, these homes had stories of their own. Who were the people who lived here? How long ago was this home built? What was life like all those years ago?
This was the inspiration for Bischoff to start capturing images of these abandoned homes.
In 2011, she began sharing these photos on social media, and by 2013, she had enough images to start a Facebook page called, "Abandoned: South Dakota."
"Within 10 days of launching the page, it had 25,000 fans," she said. "Since it went viral, I've done a calendar annually, as well as some custom artwork with the photos for Josiah's in downtown Sioux Falls and Klinkeltown in downtown Rapid City."
At first, Bischoff would explore rural areas looking for abandoned buildings while shooting weddings or during her travels across the state, but it has evolved to where she takes trips specifically to look for more homes to shoot. She's photographed 289 houses so far stretching to almost every part of the state; however, she has seven counties left — Hughes, Jackson, Lawrence, Oglala Lakota, Sully, Todd and Union — before she has photographed an abandoned building in every county of South Dakota.
"I am careful not to trespass to get homes, because as the kid of a farmer, I know landowner's permission is important," she said. "Ultimately, I think I just want to make a record of homes that meant so much to someone at some point. They are beautiful man-made testaments to the hard work and resiliency of South Dakotans."
In July 2018, she published a book with poet Robert (R.H.) Swaney titled, "Quiet Remnants," which includes 80 pages of Bischoff's images alongside Swaney's poems. The book is available for sale at abandonedsd.com/.
Bischoff plans to continue photographing these buildings, and folks can follow along on her travels by going to her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/abandonedSD/.
"People from all across the country who have a connection to South Dakota have expressed how the photographs makes them long for a simpler time," said Bischoff. "Some people find the photos sad because it represents a changing world, but I really like to think of the strength these homes have instead. They were built a hundred years ago and are still stubborn and sticking around."