I've recently started following a bunch of hashtags on Instagram that feature photos of abandoned places - mostly buildings, some vehicles, tunnels, bridges, etc.
The best ones, in my opinion, are the oldest buildings, featuring the grand styles of a bygone era, with natural light streaming in through faceted windows, as well as through holes in the ceilings and walls. Weathering, dilapidation, and emptiness somehow make these forgotten structures even more beautiful than when they were new. I have spent many hours lost in the experience of looking at them.
It occurred to me that this is eerily similar to my fondness for skeletons. Those old bones have so much to say, in spite of their silence and advanced stage of decay.
At first I thought that the pull of abandoned places must be some kind of metaphor for death, demonstrating how dead things get incorporated back in to new life. As the sunlight comes in, plants grow, and pretty soon you've got vines, grasses, and all manner of green things climbing over, up, and around, reclaiming the remains of human artifacts. So too do we get reabsorbed, one grisly way or another.
Then I thought, no, that's much too serious. The fascination must be about how these places promise the existence of a good backstory. We instinctively want to know what led up to the current state of affairs. Who lived there. What happened to them. How did they die. Or why did they leave such fabulous things behind. And with so many beings living on the planet, why didn't someone else come along and move in. Mystery and suspense, maybe even romance or murder, who knows. If the cover picture is sufficiently compelling, I would read that book.
As I continued to scroll through Instagram, looking at magnificent photos of abandoned places, a third explanation occurred to me. I noticed that the photos I don't like have people in them. The kind that are still alive, not skeletons. Their presence in these otherwise awe inspiring places feels like an intrusion. This made me realize that perhaps I'm just being a textbook introvert, and that these places might be wonderful simply because there is nobody there.
Getting back to skeletons, they happen to offer the same three benefits as abandoned places. They make us think about mortality, they lead us to wonder what happened to the former hosts of those bones, and when you hang out with skeletons they never intrude on your solitude.
I've had a lifelong love for old cemeteries and their inhabitants, but I didn't foresee expanding my horizons from that to abandoned places. In retrospect they have a great deal in common. It's curious though, that in contemplating their similarities I started out with the deep philosophy, retreated to morbid curiosity, and then ended up just wanting to be left alone. For the purpose of enlightenment, it seems I did that backwards.
About the Author
Annie Dunn is the artist behind Chaos in Color. She's kind of nutty about cats, has an odd affinity for skeletons, and likes to listen to audiobooks while working. Every once in awhile she puts things down in writing.