…Well sort of. I grew up in an academic family; my father taught at Allegheny College, and when I was in the 7th grade my mother began teaching at Meadville High School. So for me, the Autumn is my favorite time of the year and a return to a routine in which I am most comfortable. I have always viewed the 1st of September as my New Year’s Day. (The difference being that I am rarely hung over. I’ll leave that for the 1st of January.)
I was driving back from Boston on Sunday and saw these trees just off Route 202 in Pelham. I went back last night to take this photograph. For you lovers of Summer, I know this isn’t such welcome news, but for me it was nice to see some early color. “For every season”, etc, etc.
I have always liked this XTC song. Pretty much sums it up.
Peggy and I have been making great strides in shooting the cases that were returned from the Exploratorium. Last week, we started in on Madeline C, and yesterday we worked on her books and papers.
Madeline’s life was very full before coming to Willard.
She was living in the New York City area, and taking classes at both Columbia and Hunter College. You can see her Hunter ID card in the photograph above.
Somehow, she became a patient at Central Islip Psychiatric Center, and it was pretty clear that it wasn’t a great place for her. We came across many letters that she wrote to doctors outside of the institution that were never mailed. This is something that we rarely found at Willard.
Peg and I were both very moved by Madeline’s possessions. She was highly educated, completely bi-lingual in French and English (the original spelling of her name was Madeleine, so we assume she was born in France), and lived a very stimulating life before she was institutionalized.
This is just a tiny selection of her papers and books. I could easily post 50 photographs of her things; something I will get to when I upload her to the willardsuitcases.com site. Which given the sheer volume of images, might be a while.
Thanks to all of you for hanging in there with me on this. I really think that I will be done with shooting in the next few weeks, and will move to spending at least a few days a week editing and uploading. I am hoping to find some sort of artist’s retreat where I could spend a month just working on the project. Any suggestions would be welcome.
My dad, seen here in the middle, died 8 years ago today. I have always meant to write a long post about him, but the time never seems quite right. He was a really interesting guy. As he was about to be drafted into the Army, he heard about a US Navy Japanese language program at the University of Colorado. He applied, got accepted, and learned to read, write, and speak fluent Japanese in less than 18 months. He came out as a naval officer and spent the rest of the war translating intelligence intercepts. He was on a ship next to the USS Missouri when MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945.
This photograph (a 4×5 contact print) has been on the wall of my studio for a really long time. I am sure at some point I turned it over, but the date on the back never registered with me.
Yesterday, I was looking at it and realized that he arrived in Yokohama just 2 days after the surrender. And very soon after that, these 3 guys were the first Americans to arrive on the island of Hokkaido to begin the occupation. I remember him saying that they didn’t know how they would be received, but that the Japanese were very welcoming and seemed to be greatly relieved that the war was over.
Click here and here for a couple of links about that time. It seems almost surreal to me to have such a direct connection to something that happened almost 70 years ago, and seems so far removed from my own experiences.
Here is another example of a complication in one’s life that could possibly lead to time spent at Willard. It has not been unusual to find evidence of language problems in the lives of people who were patients there. Obviously, there must have been other factors in Michael’s situation that led him to Willard, but we have never seen such a direct link to language issues. (Michael was born Michele B in Italy.) The pink note should be readable, but if not, here is the text. “Please give this man something for his ear as he can not talk much english [sic] to make you understand what he wants.” Very sad, and I wonder what the writer meant by “something for his ear”. My first thought upon reading this was a reference to the Babel Fish which is featured in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books.
Yesterday, we also photographed Lawrence Mocha’s suitcase. I will do a longer post about him in the next few days.
Thanks for following.
This is what is left of the handle on one side of Michael’s large trunk. Sadly, there is only a tiny remnant of the original Willard tag attached to a string, so there is no information about the date he arrived. But there is a ton of very interesting material in the collection, which I am really looking forward to photographing next Tuesday.
I will be doing a longer post with lots of photos next week. Until then, thanks for following.
Rodrigo was a reader. His collection of books was extensive and interesting.
He was also a bit of a writer. Below is a novel that he wrote that was part of his library.
It is interesting how he changed the dedication.
He must have been working with some sort of editor or teacher, as there are lots of corrections in red ink.
Some of his books were from his days at Salt Lake High School. The collected issues of the school publication “Red and Black” were among his books.
This was the only evidence of his byline that I could find.
Frustrating to have to obscure his surname.
There is so much amazing material here, and I have to keep reminding myself that I am just documenting the collection as a photographer, and not as a social historian. The temptation is to photograph everything that made his life so interesting, but I reckon I would never finish.
Peggy was especially helpful is setting up and organizing our work yesterday. Here is a shot of her cheerful presence in front of a setup for which she was largely responsible. Thanks Peg.
Peg and I started in on the returned Exploratorium cases yesterday, and it was great to get back to shooting.
Herman’s case was particularly interesting to me as most of his things related to photography. It will be somewhat difficult to read this label on a computer monitor, but it reveals quite a bit about him. He had been living in Sonyea, NY at the Craig Colony for Epileptics. Lin Stuhler’s site has a good description of Craig here. There is a note on this label stating “List of ??? [artifacts, contents?, I can’t quite read it] on reverse side of this cover”.
And here is that list. You can see Herman’s signature on the top sheet that acknowledges receipt.
There were three lenses in the case, including this lovely Bausch and Lomb Tessar.
This was the 1930s idea of a light meter.
The collection includes quite a bit of correspondence from The American School of Photography in Chicago. It seemed to be a well organized “learn at home” way of becoming a photographer. Since all of the envelopes that contained the promotional materials were addressed to Herman in Sonyea, NY, I have to assume that he was learning to be a photographer while living at the Craig Colony.
For me, Herman’s story is particularly touching, and not just because of the photography connection. I purposely don’t include too much of myself on this site, but sometimes I feel the need to open up a bit about the emotional impact of shooting these cases. Our son Peter is an amazing guy. He was a preemie, and spent months in the hospital after he was born. He has cerebral palsy and a history of epilepsy. He lives independently in DC and is a truly remarkable and inspirational person. I simply can’t imagine what his life would have been like had he been born in the 1920s, and when I think of Herman and his life in institutions, it breaks my heart.
I put up a post earlier today titled “Willard Suitcases / Herman G” and it did not appear on my main page, but showed up as a new page on the right side. This is a test to see if the problem repeats itself.
It seems back to normal. I will try to repost it now. Thanks for your patience.