School's Out ... Forever?

Nov 8, 2012
Originally published on November 8, 2012 11:49 am

Allison V. Smith loves photographing empty spaces. So when she learned that 11 schools in Dallas were being closed this year, she knew she had to get inside.

Her interest started in 2008, when she was invited to photograph an old school that was being modernized. She wandered around with a hard hat and her Hasselblad to document old water fountains and chalkboards before the building was brought up to date.

"Living in Dallas, where they tear down the old and build up the modern so quickly, I thought it was important to document those places and spaces," she says on the phone.

Smith says she loves exploring alone with her camera, so she was excited when the Dallas Independent School District gave her carte blanche to wander around nine empty schools this past summer.

The resulting photos show classrooms and hallways that look frozen in the 1990s. Worn and battered chalkboards keep company with well-used lockers. A science model sits abandoned. Chairs are stacked in colorful rows.

"I like showing people something they've seen or used," she says, "and making them stop and think 'that's beautiful.' "

According to the DISD website, these schools were underutilized, had low enrollment or were near other schools that could take on more students. They say the buildings are being "mothballed" — or maintained just enough so as not to fall into total disrepair.

"I think these photos are important to see because they are sad to me," says Smith. "These beautiful old buildings had the life sucked out of them, and no one is going to play in them again."

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