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.
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.
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 often talk about the unique nature of the suitcase collection, and at times refer to the truly incredible job the New York State Museum did in preserving the cases and their contents.
The above photo is a great example of the museum’s work. The only items in Benjamin’s case were the original label, a toothpick, and a tiny scrap of paper. When we opened this case, the label was in one archival bag, and the toothpick and paper scrap were in another. This may be something only museum curators and conservators can truly appreciate, but we are all beneficiaries of the care and concern shown to these materials.
I also often mention the major contribution Peggy Ross makes to this project, but today she really did something huge. Over the last few months she has been working on a database of everything we have shot and what is left to do. She made this list while I was shooting today, and just seeing it made me feel that not only have we made real progress, but now being able to complete a documentation of the entire collection seems within reach. We now know exactly what remains to be shot and, that makes me feel really good.
It was great to see my friend Connie Houde who was working at the storage facility today. She is on staff at the museum and is also a really interesting photographer. She’s been working on updating her website and you should check it out here.
Thanks for following. Cheers, Jon
I have started shooting two days a week at the museum in an attempt to get through all 400 cases. I have a long way to go. Last week Peg was not able to help out and I was only able to get through 4 empty cases in a day.. She was with me this Wednesday and Thursday and we really wailed. We were able to get through several empty cases and then started on Charles F’s collection; 2 small cases and a huge trunk with 4 archival boxes filled with his possessions. He was such an interesting fellow and had saved very interesting items. He was born in Russia in 1861, became a US citizen in 1896 and was admitted to Willard in 1946. He died there and is buried in Ithaca.
I have slowly been uploading more cases to the gallery on willardsuitcases.com. Check it out by clicking on “The Cases” in the tabs section at the top of the page.
I was back shooting suitcases today. I hope to have a post up tomorrow with a few of the latest. It was a good day. / I believe I have mentioned earlier here that I often stop at the Donut Dip in West Springfield to pick up some treats. Peggy was mentioning this to the woman who works the counter at the Schuyler Bakery in Watervliet, and of course donut quality came up in the conversation. We did a bit of an experiment today. Peg couldn’t get an “old fashioned” but we did have glazed and jam donut parity. The glazed (bottom row) were markedly different. I preferred the Dip’s but Jeff and Peg liked Schuyler’s (the latter seemed to me more “cakey” and less melt in the mouth.) Next up was the jam (top row). We all liked the Donut Dip’s offering. Peg was pretty sure it was raspberry. The lone cake on the left is from the Schuyler and she called it a “raised”. Not sure if the Dip has an equal but I’ll check.
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.
On Thursday Peggy came over to help me edit for the Exploratorium exhibit. We had a very productive day and nailed down our final choices. I started printing yesterday morning and have worked pretty steadily until a few minutes ago. I still have some that I will probably reprint tomorrow, but for all intents and purposes I am done for now. All my prints are 12 inches wide, and my great friend Alex Ross has been printing the seven or eight 36 inch wide prints. It feels great to be so close to putting everything into a giant fedex box and sending them to San Francisco.
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 have been spending a lot of time in Albany photographing the cases. I have been a bit overwhelmed lately and have had a hard time deciding what to post as an update. There is so much material and most of it is fascinating. I have been averaging at least one shoot a week, and it still feels that I have a long way to go.
Just as a case this one is nice. Very well made and quite stylish.
It belonged to Steffan K. (although his first name was spelled differently on some items. On one envelope from a druggest it was written as Steve.)
I especially appreciated the way that the staff wrapped and preserved the items.
My interest in the wrappings and the bows has actually increased. The three women that did most of the work each had a different style. Sarah Jastremsky, Christine Allen, and Karen Chambers worked for months going through the cases cataloguing and then stabilizing each item. At some point I’ll get try to get together with them and find out who did what.
These items seem so personal to me. The calendar was from 1929.
I never intend to fetishize the items in the cases, but this clock just blew me away.
It is a very early example of a Westclox Big Ben. Steffan clearly brought it with him when he arrived at Willard, and my guess is that it never left the box. Both the box and the clock are in perfect condition. It just made me sad to think that it was packed to go to along with him and he might have never used it there.
As I spend more time with the suitcases and talk to people who worked at Willard, I am becoming quite convinced that the reason the cases were never thrown away is due to the fact that the employees developed close and lasting relationships to the patients. When they were discharged or died, the personal connection was so strong that it made it impossible to just toss them out. Anyway, that’s just my theory, and I know the whole issue of how the state chose to treat the mentally ill is a complicated one.
Thanks as usual to The New York State Museum, and especially Craig Williams for allowing me access to the cases and facilitating this project. And to Peggy Ross for her great help with the process of shooting and re-wrapping each case.