In the late afternoon of 28 October, 2011 I picked up Peter at Union and he and I were heading home for the weekend. Cristine was working in the Middle East, and the weather forecast was calling for a major storm. I was partway through the first suitcases Kickstarter campaign, and feeling unsure as to how it would all work out. We stopped at the first rest area on the MASS PIKE to get gas (and I think a packet of Hostess Cup Cakes). I looked at my phone and something like 80 emails that had just come in. I really thought there was a problem with my account and that the server was just resending old mail that I had already viewed. When I looked closely I realized that all the email had come from Kickstarter. They had just featured me as a “project we love”, and I immediately met my goal. That early winter storm rolled in big time and we were without electricity for the next 2 days. Wild./ Yesterday, I was shooting the suitcases in Rotterdam and was aware that the current Kickstarter appeal was ending in the evening. As I was driving east on the pike towards home, I stopped for gas at that same rest area, looked at my phone and saw this ($20,879 pledged with 341 backers, funding successful). It seemed just right that I discovered that both projects had gone over the top at the same location.
This is one of yesterday’s cases. It belonged to Joseph K.
Thank you all for your support and interest in the project. And a huge thanks to the folks at Kickstarter for running a great organization, and providing a venue that enables independent projects like this one to be successful.
Last February, Craig Williams and I were at Willard shooting the attic where the suitcases were “rediscovered. (Here’s a link to an earlier post) There aren’t many of these upright metal markers left.
After we were done, we walked across the road to the cemetery. It is always very moving to see the field where many of the Willard patients are buried in numbered graves. And interesting to note that starting in the late 1930s, and ending just before he died 1968, a patient named Lawrence M was the primary gravedigger. Amazing.
Thanks for all the tremendous response to my “appeal” post the other night. We are at $14,000 on the Kickstarter appeal, and I am feeling very positive.
The Kickstarter campaign ends next Wednesday. I want to thank all of you who have supported the project so far.
It is now time for me to put out a direct appeal to those of you who have thought about backing the project but have been waiting to decide if it was something you would care to do. I could really use your help.
The way Kickstarter works is that I set a goal, and if that goal is not reached, none of the funds will come through. I felt strongly that I did not want to undervalue the project, and that if I achieved my goal, I would be able to finish shooting all the cases. The money raised helps me cover my costs of travel, pays me for my time, and enables me to pay Peggy Ross for her invaluable help. The funds also allow me to make and distribute prints to show to potential venues for exhibits, and begin to reach out to organizations that might want me to talk about the suitcases to a wider audience. I can’t begin to tell you how weird it feels to me to directly ask for financial support, but I am convinced that this is the most important project I have worked on in my life as a photographer, and I think Kickstarter is a great venue for people to become involved in the creation of something so compelling. So, here’s the link. And thanks so much.
William H was admitted to Willard on 28 June, 1926.
I have just launched the second Kickstarter appeal to fund my work on the suitcases and I am very excited. Thanks to everyone who helped me put this together, and to all of you who are such strong supporters. Here is the link. Cheers, Jon
It has been quite a while since I have posted a suitcases update. There is a lot going on, and I finally have a bit of a breather. I have been shooting at least one day a week in Rotterdam, and some weeks I have managed two full days.
On Tuesday, Peter Carroll came out from Ithaca and we shot video for the upcoming Kickstarter 2 appeal. It will be several weeks before it is even close to be up and running (pending Kickstarter approval), but I have been thinking a great deal about how to go about the whole thing.
I have a natural aversion to asking for financial support for my independent projects, and it is a bit of a struggle for me to think about how to begin this process all over again. After the shoot, I was talking to my son Peter, and he had some great words of encouragement, especially the idea that I would never be asking for a second round of support if the first one wasn’t so successful in getting folks interested in the suitcases.
And what really keeps me going is that in doing this work, I have helped to create and incredible community of people who are invested in the completion of the project.
Peg Ross and I have been so productive in the last two months. We have a system set up that allows us to be super efficient. In one two day period alone we managed to shoot almost 30 cases. Most of these were partially to completely empty, but I have come to feel that it is just as important to document these suitcase as the ones that are full.
These license plates are a good example. Along with the paper tag, these were the only objects in Robert Y’s case. Amazing.
Stuert B’s case was filled with these bathroom products. This is the second container of Dr. Lyon’s Tooth Powder we have come across.
I love the Mennen logo on the top of the talcum container. Beautiful.
I have also been able to upload a few more suitcases to “The Cases” section of willardsuitcases.com. Check it out if you get the chance and please stay in touch. It means so much to me to get feedback.
On Monday I shot the last of the Willard suitcases for a while. I hope to use the rest of this month to begin editing the images for the Exploratorium exhibit, and knowing how my brain works I knew I couldn’t attempt to edit while I was still shooting. I was surprisingly emotional about the whole thing; an important part of the project ended and I am not sure when it might resume. It is also significant to me that it marks the end of the Kickstarter phase of this work. So some thank you’s are in order. I could NEVER have gotten this far without Kickstarter and the incredible support of the almost 700 people who backed me. Thanks to Alex Ross for the long term “loan” of his lights and soft boxes. He is a true friend. Craig Williams and the New York State Museum gave me access to the cases and Craig’s support was instrumental in keeping it all moving along. And Peggy Ross kept me organized. Without her help in unwrapping, setting up the shots, helping me see things I would have missed, and putting the objects back where they belong I would never have made it through as many of the cases as I did.
I will work on a post later today showing the last case in the queue, as it were. It was a great one to end on.
I am pretty close to mailing the first of the Kickstarter rewards. So for those of you who backed the project at the $10.00 level, watch your mailbox. These are the first prints I have made of this work, and I am thrilled to finally see them on paper. Each print is signed and so the process is a bit slow; tonight I will start addressing the envelopes. You might notice the beautiful Yard-O-Led pencil in the bottom of the photo. It was a gift from my great friend John Wilson and it is the perfect writing instrument for signing the prints. It makes me so happy to be using it.
The suitcases project has opened a lot of doors for me. Jessica Helfand teaches a freshman seminar at Yale called “Studies in Visual Biography”. She is interested in (among other things) how ephemeral objects can tell a lot about the individual who owned them. Very early on she noticed my Kickstarter page and invited me to come down to New Haven to talk to the class. I went today and it was a blast. Afterwards Jessica took me to the Cushing Center at the Yale School of Medicine where neurologist Dr Harvey Cushing’s collection of brains resides. There is an amazing story about how the center came about, and the representation of his work and life are housed in a beautifully designed space. It is all very scientific, and not at all macabre. Well worth a visit.
Not all of the suitcases have much in them. Craig suggested that I make selections from the master list, but somehow I like the surprise of not knowing what they contain. I did make some suggestions this time, but was still surprised by what I found.
I am still drawn to the archival paper and string that is used to preserve the cases. There is something so beautiful about how the bows are tied.
This case belonged to Raymond H. You can see the bird droppings from when it was stored in the attic before they were saved by the museum.
I don’t always find items that tell much of a story, but something about this one caught my fancy.
It took me a few minutes to figure out what these papers were.
Rolling papers! I hadn’t noticed the orange wrapper when I took them out of the envelope.
May 4, 1923, such a long time ago. / Many thanks to Peggy Ross who helped me rewrap the cases and pointed out a few things that I had missed. And as usual to Craig for all his help.
A very interesting weekend here. Lost power here at 10 Saturday night. Cell phone towers were down too, so no email or internet. Drove Peter back to Union on Sunday afternoon, and finally got a signal at one of the Berkshire rest areas on the Pike. Amazingly, skyped Cris in Gaza from my phone and she assured me she was ok, in spite of the recent hostilities. Then saw all the email from Kickstarter backers and am just totally blown away. So many people to respond to and thank and it will take a while. Got back to a very dark house last night, stoked up the wood stove and lit some candles. Power came back on just after 6.00 this morning. / Thanks to everyone for the support and encouragement; I’ll be posting an update on Kickstarter in a bit.