Rural flight is defined as the movement of young people from rural areas to urban areas. This phenomenon has plagued small Iowa towns since the recession during the early 1980s, and it continues to affect small town economies across the state today. The effects of rural flight are widespread and have left rural Iowa with numerous abandoned towns and locations, all in various states of disrepair.
Documenting these locations before they fall down or disappear forever is a service that 24 year-old, Indianola resident Mitch Nicholson happily provides through his blog, Abandoned Iowa. Nicholson travels to towns across Iowa to photograph deserted buildings, mostly throughout central and eastern counties.
The project began in the fall of 2012 when Nicholson wanted a way to escape the hustle of dorm life. He says he began to drive around and noticed several abandoned buildings in rural Iowa towns in Marion county. He began to take his camera along on his leisurely drives and posting the photos of these abandoned buildings on Tumblr, and later a Facebook page. It wasn’t long before he gained a following on the social media sites.
“My audience is mostly in their 40’s or 50’s,” Nicholson said. “Many of them will tell me that they used to go to the abandoned school I took photos of, or they have memories at a particular location. They appreciate that I’m photographing these places how they are now.”
He attributes the success of the blog to his fans, stating that he probably would not be motivated to continue his efforts without the encouragement and support of so many people.
Posts on Abandoned Iowa include several photographs of locations. A historical context to the photographs is usually also provided to educate the reader about a location’s history and significance to its community.
Nicholson is careful not to trespass on private property, though. Hey says he tends to photograph public places or old bridges that are on public land.
“Usually when people see me with a tripod and a camera, they leave me alone,” he said. “Most people don’t mind because I’m not disturbing anything and I’m not trespassing.”
He funds his ventures on his own, saving his money for gas and the occasional hotel when he’s not lodging with relatives in Iowa City. In the future, Nicholson also plans to publish a book with the same name, Abandoned Iowa, that explores the theme of place and how places impact people.
“I think it would be easy for me to create a coffee-table photo book,” Nicholson said. “I also enjoy writing, so I’d like to incorporate that interest as well. I hope to have it done by Christmas of next year.”