Hollowed-out, dilapidated, and forlorn, abandoned homes stand in eerie solitude within vast empty landscapes, looking like the only remnants of civilization for miles. In his new series “Thin Places,” photographer Brendon Burton captures modern-day American ruins exuding a sense of loneliness within their rural settings. Each one hints at its own sad story of loss. What happened to these homes and their former occupants?
Burton, who stumbles upon most of these places in his travels, can’t offer any answers, though he does circle back around to his subjects occasionally only to find that they’ve since perished without a trace, seemingly erasing their entire existence. One is a wooden farmhouse set beside two trees, surrounded on all sides by lush green crops. “The Substation Fire here in Oregon burnt this abandoned house and 70,000 acres of land just a month after I took this photo,” he tells Monster Children.
The Portland, Oregon-based photographer has been photographing abandoned places since 2011. For “Thin Places,” each property was shot with a drone to fully capture just how isolated they are. Burton says it’s the liminality of the spaces that draws him in. They exist somewhere between past and present, perhaps even somewhere between this realm and another.
“There is a Celtic concept regarding places that feel strangely magnetic,” Burton says. “It is said heaven and Earth are only three feet apart but in Thin Places that distance is even shorter. Abandoned houses are a perfect example of this phenomenon. These places are at the intersection of archeology and fantasy, and you can visit these sites but can never get the full story. So curiosity keeps bringing me back. What makes people leave, and what keeps things standing? How much of a life gets left along with it?”
Burton’s own childhood on a farm in rural Oregon informs much of his subject matter. A thread of wistful Americana runs through his body of work, whether he’s photographing homes that look like archaeological studies in danger of collapse or portraits set in foggy forests. Most of his imagery starts with road trips through the sparsely populated countryside, where he and his friends often enter empty-looking buildings and sort through the belongings left behind by whoever last lived there. Burton likes to immerse himself in each setting before he shoots, taking in its emotional essence and using that feeling to set up the photos.
Burton’s parents put a disposable camera in his hands when he was just six years old, but he began taking photography seriously at the age of sixteen, when he acquired his first digital SLR camera. An early focus in conceptual photography has shifted over time to be more documentary in nature. “I guess my style lately has been a mix of Children of the Corn with vaguely “Post Nuclear Fallout Exploration,’” Burton told My Modern Met in 2017. “I’m so obsessed with adding ambiguity to my work now, if I can come up with more than one storyline behind the image, I’ve succeeded.”
Burton will soon travel to Appalachia for a new photo series. Keep up with his evocative work by following along on Instagram @burtoo.