A photographer’s quest to uncover the story of an abandoned building

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Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

This is the story of how a building burnt nearly to the ground. This story never happened.

But something did. Nyanna Johnson knew it, driving past a half-destroyed building near her neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio, with her parents. Half the roof was missing, the brick walls caving in — she wanted to know what had happened there. So she came back a few days later.

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Johnson is 17 and attends the Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton, where she studies choir. But sometime in her freshman year, she discovered the darkroom and the visual stories all around her neighborhood.

“Old buildings have a story to me,” she said. “I like thinking about what might have taken place there, or who lived there, what time of work that this building might have had, and I tell a story from that.”

To find the backstory of this building, she went looking for clues. “I went and explored, looked around, trying to figure out what happened there.”

She found old basketballs, teddy bears, the recreational remnants of what may have been a family. Left with little information and the toys in her hands, she built the story of a young girl who had maybe lived there. A dancer. “She came home and found her house had burned down and everything that she had and loved was gone,” she said.

Johnson decided to photograph that story and brought her 12-year-old sister to appear in the photographs. Her portfolio, some of which you can see below, just won the Gold Medal Portfolio Prize at the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, an honor awarded to 16 student artists and writers around the country this year.

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

Photo by Nyanna Johnson

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