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June 13, 2018 09:56 PM

Quiet Remnants: Abandoned Houses Inspire Book, Friendship

South Dakota's countryside isn't just flushed with fields and hardworking farmers; it's a home to abandoned houses. The rundown relics continue to inspire an area photographer who has spoken with us about her passion project before. 

Now, the abandoned homes are acting as a bridge for two art forms and two people. 

For most of us, a casual drive-by reveals nothing more than the ghosts of the prairie. For photographer Abby Bischoff, something else clicks. She looks beyond the facade of an abandoned house and sees someone's home.  

"They're monuments to the people who have come before us and reminders of the way of life we've had here," Bischoff said. 

This is the focus of her longtime photo project, Abandoned: South Dakota. Bischoff drives the South Dakota countryside to capture what's long forgotten. 

"Homes are more than just buildings, they're really kind of another character in your life," Bischoff said. 

5,000 miles later, she's photographed at least 280 houses.

"I've got, let's see, 59 of the 66 counties done," Bischoff said. 

That's started a connection with Robert Swaney. Where he works now is a long way from the acreage where he grew up, but he's still not afraid to get his hands dirty. 

"That was a big part of my chores was cleaning and so it comes natural to me," Swaney said. 

Swaney is a custodian. 

"People are shocked this is what I do for a living," Swaney said. 

He takes pride in his work, and it's also an important chapter for his other career. 

"It's monotonous work and gives me the creative space to put toward writing," Swaney said. 

Swaney writes poetry. When he was cleaning at Bischoff's office building, the two became friends. You could say her photography swept the custodian off his feet, and inspired him to write. The two have co-authored a book "Quiet Remnants: Finding the Beauty in What Once Was." Photography by Bischoff, poetry by Swaney. 

"Robert's words were one of the first times I felt like somebody else really understood the project," Bischoff said. 

"I talk about there being stories in the walls and I think it's kind of neat to ponder that. I can only imagine how many families these homes were important to," Swaney said. 

For six months, Swaney looked over several years' worth of Bischoff's photos and wrote a custom love letter to each house. Swaney says his love for farm life isn't the only reason why he showed such care and empathy for the abandoned. 

"I grew up with my grandparents and my father left when I was still in the hospital when I was born and I think that...I do think about that a lot," Swaney said. 

Swaney says that helped shape him as a writer and a human. Bischoff says putting these emotions in a book to share with others feels good.

"Shows people that dreams, and this is really corny, can become reality. There's your Oprah moment," Bischoff said, laughing. 

Oprah would probably agree this is the best part of Swaney and Bischoff's book. Most of us casually walk by each other without a second thought. In these divided times, "Quiet Remnants," and its authors are loud reminders of what happens when we choose not to abandon humanity and look past each facade and actually see each other. 

"Just take the time to talk to people and get to know them and you'll find these common things," Bischoff said. 

"There's something beautiful about all of us. And, um, it'd be very easy to live life without recognizing that and then the next thing you know, it's our time to go," Swaney said. 

"Quiet Remnants: Finding the Beauty in What Once Was" is now available for pre-order at Abandoned: South Dakota's website. You can meet the authors on July 6 at Zandbroz in Sioux Falls for a book signing. Swaney has another book coming out called "Lovely Seeds" That book is available November 1, 2018. 


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