Samantha VanDeman‘s No Vacancy series might look like ruin porn, a genre of photography heavily criticized for how it fetishizes destruction and poverty. But instead of making kitschy art from what’s left, she tries to bring life to abandoned spaces.
She has long found her way into abandoned motels to photograph what remains. Her photography concentrates on the objects she finds inside; she hopes seeing them helps viewers understand that real people experiencing real things occupied those long-forgotten rooms.
“I know this sounds silly, but in some ways I feel like I’m rescuing the objects or spaces,” she says.
The project started in 2009 when VanDeman drove by the boarded up Purple Hotel near her home in Chicago and decided on a whim to explore it. The hotel, built in 1960, was Hyatt’s first in the Midwest and its Chicago flagship for many years. It closed in 2007 and was in complete disrepair when VanDeman found her way in.