One of my goals in the early part of this year is to work very hard at uploading the cases to willardsuitcases.com. Today I edited Thomas Y’s case. Here is a shot of one of the locks. Sometimes I find myself just opening and closing them over and over; the sound can be very evocative.
When I started this project, I truly had no idea of the way that it could touch people. On a daily basis I get email and comments from folks who stumble across the photos online. I save them all, and sometimes I am awed by how the work is perceived by people whose lives have been touched by mental illness. Today, a comment was posted by Daphne and since it was put up publicly, I hope that she won’t mind if I quote her here.
“I just saw this. oh my, I am so humbled for those who you make alive and human again. They were just like us in many ways. To be shrunk into ONE suitcase…is beyond me. I have a lifetime of mental illness in my family, and I have to say, they are just like us…all in all…as you show. Thank you.”
No, Daphne…..thank you.
This photograph is from the last shoot of 2014. LaVerne’s case held an amazing collection of postcards from Europe and some very interesting personal photographs. / Due to scheduling issues, Peg and I and won’t be able to get back to the project until later this month, but we are on the home stretch with the suitcases. I would estimate that we have photographed at least 350 of the roughly 400 cases and it feels great. The next phase (along with continuing to edit and upload to the site) will be to start talking to publishers and galleries.
Some very good news about coverage of the work. In mid December I started to see an up tic in traffic on the web, and I have been receiving lots of interest and great feedback. Just this morning abcnews.com ran a selection of the images. It is featured quite high on their main page and here is the direct link. Thanks so much to Kate at ABC News for her interest.
And a very interesting site in Brazil just ran a long article on the project. The InstitutoMoreiraSalles (IMS) runs an online magazine called ZUM and they did a great job putting the piece together. Here is the link. If any of you read Portuguese, let me know how it sounds.
A few days ago I started getting a great deal of email from people who had seen the project somewhere online. I am not really sure of the source, but am always pleased to hear from folks. I think I tracked down the article, but it did have some really glaring errors, and attributed some things to me that I never would have said. I hesitate to post a link, as it is one of those conglomeration sites with some tacky ads and links.
But the good part is that I am hearing from some wonderful people who are sharing their stories with me. I really appreciate it, and am grateful that the project is reaching new viewers.
I am in a motel in Erie, PA on my way to Wittenberg University where I will be spending the next few days talking to faculty and students about the suitcase project. I am really excited about this and owe a debt of thanks to my friend Peter Wray for reconnecting me to Witt.
I was back in Rotterdam at the storage facility shooting suitcases this past Friday. The last time I was there, Peggy and I were only able to get part way through Joseph A’s possessions, and I was really eager to finish up. I posted about that day here. Most of what was in his two large trunks was clothing, and as I have said before, setting up this sort of shot is difficult for me.
Thank goodness for Peg. I have mentioned before just how important she is to the project. I probably would have never done the second Kickstarter without her, or for that matter, even thought about shooting all 400 of the suitcases. Friday was a good case in point. Every single article of clothing in Joseph’s collection had been assigned a catalogue number by the museum. This meant taking the objects out of their archival boxes, keeping track of the small pieces of paper on which those numbers were written, hiding the numbers in the folds of the clothes so they weren’t visible in the photographs, setting up the shot, taking the photographs, rematching all the numbers with the articles, and finally putting them back into their designated storage boxes. We worked for about four hours on this one trunk; had I been alone it would have taken days.
And in addition to all of this detail work, she helps to organize the shots, and sees things that I would otherwise miss. When we were putting Joseph’s clothes away, she pointed out that his initials had been embroidered onto the collar of his pajamas, and it makes for a lovely picture.
So a huge thank you to Peg for her organizational skills, hard work, and dedication to the project. I couldn’t do this without her.
I am back shooting suitcases after a bit of a break. Peg has been traveling as have I, and it feels great to be working on the project again. / Joseph A. has a huge number of items in the collection. There were about 15 museum boxes in one of the big storage containers. It is always a bit intimidating with so many artifacts, especially when a large number of the items are clothing. In Joseph’s case it was interesting because half of the clothes were women’s. It wasn’t until we got deep into the setup that we found this card with the “Wife’s clothing” writing on it. As with most of the information that we glean from the objects, we can only guess the circumstances of Joseph’s admission to Willard. In this case though, it is very likely that his wife was deceased and he brought all her things with him. (This included a ton of household items such as sheets, towels, napkins, etc.) Very sad and touching.
I will be presenting the project at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, NY on (next) Wednesday the 5th of November. The event is at the Auburn Public Theatre at 7.00 PM and there is a $10.00 admission fee ($5.00 for members). I will also be talking about my NY State prison documentation project. If you follow this blog, please come up and say hi. It would be great to meet you.
There is a nice comment on the Foundling post from Nikki Soppelsa. She reminded me that she was indeed one of the people who told me about the collection in London. Check out her great blog here. And thanks Nikki. Also my friend Connie Frisbee Houde sent me the link about the fabric exhibit at The Foundling.
These hair pins were in a case when I last shot in Rotterdam. I don’t have my notes with me to credit the owner, but I’ll try to update when I am back in the studio.
I also wanted to mention that the folks at outhistory.org sent me an interesting link about Lucy Ann Lobdell, who was a patient at Willard. And Claire Potter posted about the project on their blog. Thanks to Jonathan Ned Katz and Claire.
Peg and I had a very productive day yesterday. We made it through an entire storage box of suitcases; we must have shot at least 14. Most were close to being empty. This safety pin was (barely) holding one of the ribbons that secures items on the bottom of the case. It is a lovely shade of green. This case belonged to Mary E. B.
I am sitting in terminal 3 at Heathrow waiting to be picked up by John Wilson. Nice to be back in England.
I took the train into New York City (125th Street Station) yesterday to speak to faculty and students at The Columbia Center for Archaeology. One of the (newly tenured!) faculty, Zoe Crossland, had been an early supporter of the suitcases, and through her I was introduced to Brian Boyd, who directs the center. I spoke there two years ago and really enjoyed interacting with the whole group. When I present to organizations like this, I get so much positive feedback that it really fuels me to keep going. Yesterday, it was mostly grad students and faculty and I was thrilled to interact with folks who are so involved in their own projects. As the shooting begins to wind down, I hope to be able to spend a lot of time at colleges and universities talking about the collection. So thanks to Zoe and Brian. It was a great experience.