This appears to be the oldest case in the collection.
Josephine S. was 25 years old when she was admitted to Willard in 1898.
There weren’t a whole lot of her possessions in this case, but what was there was pretty amazing.
A few photographs, 3 books, and not much more.
The hairbrush is quite lovely as is the small piece of fabric with her name and some numbers written on it (by I presume the staff at Willard). The plate is hand painted.
What was most interesting and touching was this wedding invitation postmarked “1906″. Since she was from Canandaigua, it is possible that the Lapham family thought she could attend.
I was also interested in this copy of “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I looked and it is a first edition (at least of this printing). Dust jacket and all.
Josephine died at Willard in 1973 at the age of 100.
I will be back shooting tomorrow and will post something later in the week. Thanks for following.
My good friend Connie Frisbee Houde (who works with clothing and fabrics at the New York State Museum and is also a photographer) sent me some information about the shawl that was in yesterday’s post. The technique is called assuit. Very interesting, so click the link to read more. She also mentioned that the garment with the purple lining is more likely a coat than a bathrobe. She said sometimes these are referred to as opera cloaks.
I was back at the museum shooting suitcases yesterday. Irma’s possessions were in several storage boxes and we weren’t able to finish up last week. This time I concentrated on some of her travel memorabilia and a few pieces of fabric.
As I had mentioned in last week’s post, she seems to have travelled extensively before coming to Willard. One of the boxes contained many items from Scandinavia including this beautiful collection of photographs from Norway.
She was quite a collector.
This interesting card was addressed to her when she was in New York City and I think it might have been from her sister. Below is the reverse side.
And it appears that she spent time taking the cure at Mont-Dore.
This brochure is very cool.
For those of you fortunate enough to read French, you can get an idea about the treatments available. I am totally diggin’ les “Costumes du Mont-Dore”.
Here is a small section of the map that opened up in the center of the brochure.
And here she is in all her beauty. Heart-breaking. Note the sheet music in the photo on the left.
There was a large collection of family snapshots.
And I believe that the gentleman on the bottom left is her brother or brother in law.
This is a detail of a bathrobe that was obviously hand sewn.
Above are two beautiful scarves with this small clutch purse.
And a nice detail of the beads on the clutch.
Yesterday I also shot a case of a woman named Josephine who came to Willard at the age of 25 in 1898 and died at the institution in 1973. Her case is the oldest in the collection and I hope to post some shots next week. Thanks for following, and thanks so much to the New York State Museum for allowing me access to this amazing collection.
This past Monday I began documenting the Willard suitcases again after not having done so since last September. I had stopped shooting at that time to prepare for the Exploratorium exhibit. The New York State Museum has given me permission to continue the project and it is both exciting and daunting, as there are still over 300 cases to photograph.
Craig Williams thought that Irma M.’s cases would be a good place to start, and so after getting set up, Peg and I began shooting in the late morning. Irma had several cases, and most of her possessions were in museum boxes.
There wasn’t much in the brown suitcase, but I liked the design of the fabric liner.
She was initially placed in Ward 3, South West
This large trunk had a couple of nice labels on the outside.
I appears that this trunk was shipped to Willard in 1933.
Irma led a very interesting life and it is clear that she spent time in both Europe and North America.
We had the usual problem with deciding what to shoot, as one of the museum boxes was completely full of sheet music.
It appears from her papers that she taught both music and languages in New York City after she moved to the US from Europe.
It is interesting that the composer Jack Bauer signed this one with such a nice dedication.
In addition to all the sheet music, there was a large collection of books and diaries from her travels. This Panama Canal book is incredible.
As is this sweet little booklet honoring George Washington.
I appears to be written for children what with the large illustrations and the somewhat dodgy history of his time with Native Americans.
Some of the books were in pretty rough shape, as was the interior of the trunk.
This illustrated dictionary caught our attention.
Peggy is a fluent French speaker and I asked her what her favorite word was.
She responded immediately with “pépinière” and “pépiniériste”.
I especially liked this representation of flags with annotations for the colors.
We were not able to get through all of Irma’s things and I hope to finish her up next week. This was our last set-up of the day.
The umbrella handle is so delicate.
I was able to find a link to Dr Charles Flesh Food.
This small diary contained some interesting entries.
Whenever I see an address like this I can’t help but wonder who lives there now. And what about Mrs George Covert? What was her connection to Irma?
From her diary of 8 January, 1925.
If feels so good to get back to this project and I hope to have more updates soon. Cheers, Jon
I am really sorry that this is so last minute. I have been meaning to post this for a while now, but things have been very busy. I will be speaking at Willard tomorrow at 9 am and 1 pm. Here are the details.
features parts of an exhibit which is now at the San Francisco
Exploratorium with suitcases, photos by Jon Crispin, poetry by Karen
Miller,MD and testimonials by former employees of Willard Psychiatric
Center. An update of the Willard Cemetery, tours of the cemetery and the
Romulus Historical Society”s Museum will be available. The program will
be at 9am & repeated at 1pm. The charge will be $10. at the door. For
further information call 315-651-5702 or 607-869-9404.
I would be so happy to see anyone who can make it.
I just received word from the New York State Museum that I have permission to start shooting more suitcases. I’ll call them next week to set up a schedule. This is a huge relief to me and I would like to publicly thank them for allowing this to happen. / This photograph was taken on 22 May, 1984 on the very first day that I was allowed into Chapin House. It was a wild day. My dear friend Richard Pieper was with me and basically ran interference as I was assigned two security guards to follow me around. He would stop in the middle of doorways and turn around to ask a question thus holding them up so I could be left on my own a bit. I remember feeling that I might not have much more access than on this day, so I shot 35 mm black and white film with my Leica rangefinders (these two shots), 35mm slide film with my Nikons, and 120 color negative film with my Pentax 6×7. Almost everything great that I got out of this building came from this day. / I was so thrilled last evening to get an email from Michael Labate who was director of facilities planning for OMH at the time I was trying to access the buildings. He single-handedly got me access to Willard and I will be forever grateful. He had heard about the suitcase project and was so complimentary about my work.
These broom-like devices weighed a ton and were used by the patients as they walked the corridors. As it was explained to me, the wooden floors were in constant need of maintenance, and paraffin would be put on chamois cloths attached to the bottom of these polishers. I only ever shot this scene in black and white, but it is so very evocative to me.
The Mail Online ran a nice article about the suitcases and used lots of photographs. I haven’t had the chance to read the whole piece, and will do so soon, but it looks nice. Here’s the link. I never read comments in articles like this since there are so many trolls about, and it can be distracting to read what other people think of the project. But as Cristine was looking at the story last night she read this one out loud and it really made me laugh on so many levels.
“To jump the queue to photographer fame before learning how to use lights, do what this guy did.”
- VegasWeddingPhotographer, Las Vegas, 10/6/2013 9:30
I am not even sure I can break it down, but as the work has received so much attention, I guess I have to acknowledge some level of “fame”. But the lighting thing is so great as I have never thought of myself as a studio photographer and would admit to not wanting to light these objects as if the were, well …… objects!. My goal with shooting the cases and their contents was to make the photographs look like what they appear to me in my mind’s eye. So for clarification, and to help anyone else who also wants to “jump the queue” I’ll include a photo that Peggy Ross took of me at work. Two strobes and a couple of big ass soft boxes (thanks Alex!). Works for me.
So a hearty welcome to all the new subscribers to this site, and thanks to Mail Online for the exposure.
I drove over to Albany yesterday to work with Peggy on the Willard suitcases website and meet with the museum people about resuming photographing the cases. The meeting went well and I really hope to be able to get started soon. I am planning to have the complete willardsuitcases.com site up and running in the next few weeks and it should be pretty cool. / This truck was parked at the Blandford rest area on the Mass Pike and for obvious reasons caught my eye.
I finally got the chance to see the exhibit, and while I have a few quibbles, it is very exciting.
The space is situated very close to the front of the building. There are basically three components. On the left of this photograph (↑) is the Utica Crib display which deals with the idea of confinement. To the right of that is the entrance to the “attic” where the cases are located, along with my photographs and Karen Miller’s poems. And out the back is the interactive space where visitors can write about their feelings toward the exhibit and the ideas represented.
After entering the door ( top photo above) one enters the attic. (This is the core idea of the exhibit space. Gordon Chen based his design on the room where the cases were rediscovered. I think it mostly works, although I did hear several complaints about the lighting. It does seem a bit on the dark side. The wall to the right has nine 12 inch prints. I think they could have used more. There seems to be a lot of empty space, and given that the cases are displayed in three levels it would make sense to me to have used more photos in this area.
This shot (↑) shows the relationship between the photographs on the right and the actual cases on the left, which are placed behind chicken wire. The wire is a bit distracting for me. Viewed from a distance it works well, but when one gets close to the objects, it makes it difficult to read text and get a feeling for the items. I would stress that this could be a problem only for me, since I have had such an intimate relationship with the contents of the suitcases while photographing them. Others might not have any issue with this. At the far end of this shot is one of the amazing 36 inch photographs that Alex Ross printed (they used six of these). The idea of big prints has never really appealed to me in general, but I will say that they work really well in the space. Behind that wall is a series of video monitors with different people talking about mental illness, and I heard many visitors found these interviews fascinating.
This view (↑) looks back toward the entrance and shows how the cases are displayed. The hanging clipboards are Karen’s “then and now” diagnosis of the patients. Several people told me that this was an extremely effective way to connect with the owners of the suitcases. It is a simple concept that describes how the doctors at the time of admittance made a diagnosis, and how those same symptoms might be treated today.
Here is another one of Alex’s 36 inch prints, with cases on the right.
This view is toward the exit, and leads into the interactive space.
And this is the exit door looking back into the attic.
Visitors are encouraged to sit at tables and use small cards to answer questions like the one above. Most of the answers are heartfelt and interesting, although some trolling is present. What is especially touching to me is seeing comments in the handwriting of children. I visited on two separate occasions, and I saw parents with their kids viewing the photographs and objects, and reading Karen’s poems. This is an exhibit that is clearly provocative, although not in the negative sense at all. What it does, and was clearly intended to do, is open up dialogue about mental health issues.
Here’s another one of the questions. The card on the right reads “My stuff toy Johnson”.
The Exploratorium folks thought it would be a good idea to print up some cards with my photos on the front and a snippet of one of Karen’s poems on the back. These are beautiful and so far seem to be selling well. I bought several sets and am excited to have them.
I have a few comments about the whole experience and am not really sure where to start. But here goes.
The new Exploratorium is simply amazing. It is a beautiful space with so much to see. Keeping in mind their original charter as a hands-on learning environment, it is completely successful. And the fact that they are now branching out into the social sciences and presenting more artistically orientated concepts is great. Not only great, but brave and daring as well. My first visit was on an extremely busy Sunday and the place was jammed. As I lingered in the “Normal” space, I noticed some visitors were clearly not expecting to see something like it, and there were a few who were obviously put off by the whole idea. I even heard one young kid use the word “awful” twice in one sentence. And that is why I use the words brave and daring. They are now doing everything a public museum should be doing by exposing visitors to concepts that are not always comfortable. And I am honored to have been asked to play a small role in that process.
My second visit on Tuesday helped me to be objective about my involvement in the project. I was able to talk to quite a few people and get some very positive feedback. Early on, I accepted my role as an adjunct player in ” The Changing Face….”. It was difficult at times as most of the decision making was out of my hands. And there are still some elements of it that are at odds with my initial concept of what to do with the photographs. But as I move forward, I will be able to show the work at venues where I have much more control. That said though, I am happy and excited by what the Exploratorium has done. The photographs are being seen by a diverse audience and that is always a good thing.
So, big thanks to Pam Winfrey, Stephanie Bailey, Julie Nunn, and Stacy Martin who have all supported my involvement. Please go see the new building and the exhibit, and I would really appreciate any feedback.
In March I was contacted by Jain Lemos from the ASPP.
She had seen the Salon piece on the suitcases just as she was putting the finishing touches on the latest issue of their quarterly magazine. Jain knew that it would be very last minute, but we managed to select images and I wrote 400 words about the project. I loved her idea of featuring the preservation of the suitcases and contents, especially how the New York State Museum spent so much time and care on the cataloging and conservation aspect. Yesterday I received a few copies directly from the printer and the story looks great. They used a cropped shot of the glycerine bottle on the contents page, and as you can see above, eight shots were used in the spread. The magazine is available only to members, but the story should be up online in a month or so. It is a really great organization and not just for photographers; many members are picture editors and others who work directly with images in other ways. If you work with images in any way, it might be a good idea to check them out.