America is often seen as a land of eternal promise and newness. A young country, especially compared to most places in Europe, in the United States, anything seems possible. However, sometimes abandoned places and things get forgotten even when they are hiding in plain sight, as photographer Bryan Sansivero captures in his haunting pictures of “American decay.”
Among Sansivero’s many photo projects around “ruined and abandoned homes” is a mansion near New York City that has been empty for almost 50 years. Or at least empty of the living.
According to the Daily Mail, the mansion was built in the 1930s and abandoned about 40 years later in the 1970s. The mansion is so close to the overcrowded metropolis of New York that it’s surprising it hasn’t been snatched up and redone. And yet, there it stands, left alone, mostly intact with rooms still furnished.
Sansivero somehow managed to sneak inside and photograph the interiors, capturing a world that looks as though it has been frozen in time. While some people might find this eerie and terrifying, Sansivero sees it differently.
As his website profile explains, “in Bryan’s pictures, the idea of the abandoned place or ruin is imbued with a sense of loss, nostalgia, of strangeness, an artful fluctuation between presence and absence, creating a poetry of lost words, experience and story.”
As Sansivero’s pictures take us on a ghostly tour of the 57-room palatial house, we see all sorts of ordinary objects left behind in the rooms they were left in. Many of them make us think of the people who lived there, wondering who they were and why they left as they did.
In one shot, an old-fashioned baby carriage sits next to the stairwell as though it is waiting there for the baby to be brought down from the nursery for a walk. But the light coming through the windows reveals the stains of water damage on the wall behind, and as we look closer, we can see graffiti on the door. Perhaps the most telling marker of time is the patina of dust that covers the wood floors.
Another photo captures one room in what seems to be the middle of a painting or repair job, with a ladder set up next to the wall. A fireplace remains in the background, with a smudged mirror above it and a stately chandelier still hanging in midair.
In the ballroom, two beautiful grand pianos sit, which appear from afar to be in good condition. One of them even has its lid open, as though someone had just played it before everyone in the house left. Fake ferns and roses hang from above the drapes, giving the room a lifelike quality.
The whole space with its large blue rugs appears to be ready for a society dance until we notice the telltale signs of water damage on the ceiling above, a kind of blue pool wearing away the cream-colored paint.
One of the most poignant photos shows a toy horse that a child might have been playing with left in a sitting room on one side of the house. But bizarrely, the floor is covered with a white dusting, which we eventually realize is snow that has been blown in from an open or broken window on the far right of the picture.
The snow gives the scene some of the innocence and magic of childhood along with the little horse. All this contrasts with the peeling paint above the walls.
Just as intriguing is a photo of shelves with dozens of pairs of ladies’ shoes neatly grouped together. While they are a bit dusty and worn, they too look as though they are ready to be put on, just waiting for the lady of the house to come down.
As for the future of the house, it seems uncertain. According to the Daily Mail, it was owned by a person who would build large houses, fill them up, and then leave them for no apparent reason.
One thing is certain: Sansivero has revealed a world that has been left behind, full of all the trappings of life but missing the people who would give it meaning. It’s not so strange and far away; it’s our own past.