I am photographing a collection of suitcases left behind by residents of the Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, NY
In 1995, the New York State Museum was moving items out of the Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, NY which was being closed by the State Office of Mental Health. It would eventually become a state-run drug rehabilitation center. Craig Williams and his staff became aware of an attic full of suitcases in the pathology lab building. The cases were put into storage when their owners were admitted to Willard sometime between 1910 and the 1960s. And since the facility was set up to help people with chronic mental illness, these folks never left. An exhibit of a small selection of the cases was produced by the Museum and was on display in Albany in 2003. It was very moving to read the stories of these people, and to see objects from their lives before they became residents of Willard.
I have been given the incredible opportunity to photograph these cases and their contents. To me, they open a small window into the lives of some of the people who lived at the facility. I have settled on the idea of shooting the suitcases as they have been preserved by the museum, since part of my goal with this project is to show the care that was taken in archiving these materials. You can see the genesis of my approach to this documentation on my wordpress site, here and here.
Thanks so much for your consideration and support.
Early on I got this question and posted an update (#3) to explain this. It is a very good question, and I think I answered it pretty well. Check it out on the updates tab. / I didn't expect the project to take off like it has, and have now raised a substantial amount over my target. My intitial goal was somewhat arbitrary; I just tried to be be realistic. I figured that with $8,000 I could shoot a selection of cases and produce some nice images. With the additional funds, I now will be able to spend a lot more time shooting. There are over 400 suitcases in the collection, and I now have the chance to cover most of them. In addition, I will be able to cover the costs of making prints which will someday end up in some sort of exhibition.
There are over 400 suitcases in the collection. One of the key elements for me in doing this project is to highlight what an amazing job the Museum has done in collecting and preserving these cases.
I am getting this question a lot. I have a master list of the cases, and will be happy to look, but your best option is to contact Craig Williams in the History Department of the New York State Museum in Albany. He will be glad to help.
When the Museum was putting their exhibit together some years ago, the were working with a pool of about 40 of the cases. They attempted to contact family, but had little success. When the exhibit went up with 12 suitcases, I think family members of one of the selected residents contacted Craig.
This is also a very good question. In thinking about posting this project on Kickstarter, my only goal was to get funds to be able to continue documenting the suitcases. I purposely didn't want to look to far ahead. Given the response I am getting, I am now having to think about what comes next. I did receive a lovely note from an editor of a prominent publisher and will be following up on that in the next few days.
I have thought about this to a great extent. I want to be able to show the great respect I have for these items in the pictures that I take. I hope that comes through. I just think it is really important to share this collection with a larger audience.
Yes, in fact as I mentioned in my first Wordpress post, the New York State Musuem produced an exhibit that opened in 2004, and is still travelling around the country. A book titled "The Lives They Left Behind, Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic" was published in 2008. And the website http://www.suitcaseexhibit.org/indexhasflash.html is available to check out. Ten of the suitcases are featured. When I first became interested in photographing the cases, I wanted to make sure that what I was attempting was totally different from that project. While there is some overlap in the subject matter, I am trying to do something from a very different point of view. Please check out their project.
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