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Haunting portraits of abandoned houses

Haunting portraits of abandoned houses
Haunting portraits of abandoned houses 04:45

Bryan Sansivero makes his living photographing abandoned houses, and Halloween is his kind of holiday. "I love horror movies, I love horror, and I love old architecture," he told correspondent Martha Teichner.

For Sansivero, visiting a grand old wreck in eastern Connecticut was irresistible, because it was in the 1971 horror flick, "Let's Scare Jessica to Death." "It's definitely creepy, so it's the perfect house," he said. "It's the kind of house I like to shoot.

"If there was gonna be a haunted house, it would probably be this one."

Bryan Sansivero photographs an abandoned Connecticut house that was at one time a movie star.  CBS News

Teichner tagged along, staring in through a window: "I don't feel terrible peeking, but this is as far as we're going."

Sansivero has ground rules: no entering, unless doors or windows are wide open; and no taking anything out, or for that matter, bringing anything in to stage his pictures.

The "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" house, ready for the sequel.  Bryan Sansivero

No need for that. Just look at what he's found: eerie, mysterious time capsules. Rooms that look as if their occupants just up and left, decades ago, taking nothing with them. 

A sample of abandoned homes captured by photographer Bryan Sansivero.   Bryan Sansivero

A new book of Sansivero's photographs is out, of course, today, on Halloween.

"You see stuff online, Google Maps, you'll find stuff from above, satellite view, in rural areas, mostly," Sansivero said. "l look at the roofs, see if they look kind of run down. I'll look for dead trees, and then you go into Street View, and you can see these houses from the front and you can say, 'Oh, well, that's definitely abandoned.'"

The best ones, he thinks, are on the East Coast, especially in the South. He's photographed over 500. Some he's found on his own, others through friends. "There's definitely a big community of urban explorers established online through Instagram, Facebook, lots of different websites, where you can meet people, talk to people about houses, locations."

Views of abandoned homes (and, lower right, an abandoned car).  Bryan Sansivero

But out of respect for the houses, he's careful. "I try and keep to myself a lot of the locations," Sansivero said, "because, you know, you gotta trust the people that you give locations to, because you don't know who they're going there with, what their intentions are."

He uses a 1959 Rollieflex camera, "so the pictures will have a nice, vintage look to it, and that's just something that I love."

This house, also in eastern Connecticut, probably dates back to the 1700s. Among the detritus Sansivero and Teichner observed inside: family photographs, and a calendar dating back to May 1963.

"You definitely feel a sense of sadness, almost like a sense of loss," Sansivero said, "because you're seeing all these things left behind, and you realize that a family used to live here."

Bryan Sansivero with correspondent Martha Teichner in the ruins of a Connecticut residence.  CBS News

"Strange," said Teichner, visiting someone's former bedroom. "It looks like somebody got out of bed and disappeared."

Often, someone has died, and no one is left to live in a home, or maintain it. "Ooh, it smells really funky," Teichner noted.

Window blinds were covered in spiderwebs, and a bird's nest was nestled in a cupboard.

Bryan Sansivero's portrait of the Connecticut house's interior.  Bryan Sansivero

Sansivero has photographed houses, then come back and found them gone – which makes what he does feel important: "I feel like my pictures are part of the legacy, and the fact that they are preserving how it once looked or how it may have looked the last time someone lived there. So, in a way my pictures are art but also it is preserving the history."

And where does he live? Next to an abandoned orphanage, a spooky hulk of a place. You could have guessed. "It's exciting and it's thrilling," he said. "It just makes me feel happy to be in a place that has just beautiful architecture."

Now, if he could just get inside …

Bryan Sansivero at the abandoned orphanage next door.  CBS News

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Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Chad Cardin. 

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