37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Saturday 8 April 2017
Bulgaria has a lot of ghost towns. Well, ghost villages might be more accurate. Or ghost hamlets even. Tiny little settlements dot the mountainsides, some of them inhabited, others laying in ruins.
The country has seen an incredible downturn in population since the heyday of Bulgarian communism. Over a million people left the country immediately after the fall of the communist government, and since then it has continued to haemorrhage citizens at a steady rate. Meanwhile, within Bulgaria’s borders, the collapse of the collective farming system saw rural communities deprived of work. Factories closed, mines dried up, and gradually people began to move in a steady stream to the larger cities in search of a living.
These little mountain settlements, meanwhile, were largely left to the retirees. To the people too settled – or too stuck in their ways – to move anywhere else. Now, two decades later those ageing populations are passing on, and many of the country’s remotest villages are left empty.
I took these photographs in just such a place… but for years they’ve sat in a folder, unpublished. This empty home was unlocked when I found it, and filled with the evidence of recent life. Its owner had only just died, I later learned.
Of course, many of the abandoned buildings that I’ve photographed had once been someone’s home, someone’s school or workplace. But the onset of decay somehow makes a place feel timeless. As if whoever died here, died a long, long time ago. There’s something uncomfortable about getting there before the decay, before the plants and graffiti can do their work. What I found in that house – the newspapers, books, clothing and meagre decorations – all felt incredibly personal as a result. These were the trappings of a simple life… but it was still their life, whoever they were, and so I never felt comfortable to make these images public.
I’ll share them here though. Just with you. A discreet little window into the home of the deceased; a home caught in the transient moments between death and dereliction.
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