C-prints, 24 x 36 inches
Over the past three years, hundreds of schools have closed across Puerto Rico. The main reason cited by the government was low enrollment.
In March, April and May 2019, I began exploring these schools. Some of them were completely empty and shuttered. Other schools lay in ruins - ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, ransacked and pillaged by vandals, or victim to both. One school served as a depot for textbooks collected from neighboring schools that had been closed; another school served as a stable, taken over by locals who used the abandoned structure for their horses, chickens and goats. At times I came across schools that were still operating, yet had buildings that were off-limits, deemed unsafe or missing roofs since Hurricane Maria.
Using large and medium format film, I documented the most telling sights I came across. Regardless of the particular story behind the closing of each school, what became apparent was that these scenes told a story of abandonment. Puerto Rico is enduring a 14-year recession, and conditions only deteriorated after Hurricane Maria wrecked devastation across the island in 2017. Between 2009 and 2017, the population declined 12 percent, from 3.9 million to 3.4 million. An additional estimated 160,000 Puerto Ricans — another 5 percent of the population — left after the storm.
But the abandonment of Puerto is not only about the Puerto Ricans that have been forced out due to the island’s declining economy and failing social services. Many feel that the central government of the United States has also abandoned Puerto Rico.
Ultimately, these images of abandoned schools are among the most visible evidence of the island’s vicious circle of poor governance, neglect by Washington and environmental catastrophe.