Well, this seems to be it. This past Monday when we started our last day of shooting we expected to have just one remaining case with which to work. There were a few names on our master list that we didn’t photograph, but with a collection of over 400 suitcases, we figured that one or two were bound to be unaccounted for.
John M’s suitcase had just come back from the Exploratorium and we were eager to finish with his things. This woolen suit with two pair of trousers was unlike any other we had seen.
It was in pretty good shape, with the exception of this little hole. I don’t think it was a moth problem, but maybe he just caught it on a nail. Love the blue thread that runs through the weave.
We had shut off the strobes and were ready to pack up when we decided to look through the “institutional” items in the collection. (We are trying to decide whether or not to photograph these objects as well.) Peg spotted a box mixed in with the others that contained Lawrence R’s suitcase, so we fired everything up and got back to work.
Lawrence’s case was a really nice one. It contained quite a few letters, and some newspaper clippings. I like the headline here; “Cats Call Truce in War on Rats…” and there is a mention of goats underneath the photo. My friend Tania Werbizky is responsible for introducing me to Willard many years ago, and she loves both cats and goats. So this is a little thank you to her.
I also want to take a moment to give my heartfelt thanks the New York State Museum for allowing me access to the collection. But most of all I want to thank all of you who have been following along with me. I have learned so much from the comments you have posted, and from the very moving emails I have received from people who share with me their own struggles with mental health issues. And as I have said so many times before, I could not, and would not have been able to complete this work without the assistance and encouragement of Peggy Ross. She has added so much to all aspects of the project, and deserves the lion’s share of the credit.
Even though the shooting is finished, the work is far from over, and in some ways it is just the beginning. I will continuously be editing the photos and uploading them to the willardsuitcases.com site. I’ll continue to travel and speak about the suitcases and will be posting here where those talks are happening. There will undoubtedly be exhibits and I will be actively pursuing publishers. There has been so much call for a book, and am hopeful that a publisher will be found.
So, it is onward we go. Thank you all so much.
I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few days working on Irma’s photographs in order to upload them to the willardsuitcases.com site. Included in her things were several professionally done portraits of her, as well as many indications of what her life was like before coming to Willard. If you would like to check out the collection, go to the site, then “The Cases”, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will see her name. Make sure you click on “View: ALL”, so as to see all of the photos. It is well worth having a look.
I have set up the site so that you can order prints from the project. It is a fairly simple procedure. When you click on an image in a collection, you will see an “Add to Cart +” button. Click it and from there you will have 3 sizes from which to choose. Just follow the directions about payment, and I will be notified. I’ll then make the print in my studio, sign it, and ship it off. Couldn’t be easier, and it will help the project tremendously. Thanks so much.
One of the cool things for me about Madeline’s collection is that she had the negatives for many of her photographs. The museum did a fantastic job in conserving and co-ordinating the negatives with the prints.
When I turned over this particular postcard, I was thrilled to see that she had stayed at the Prince George Hotel in New York City. I have overnighted there twice, and both were memorable. The first time I had just turned 16 and I, along with my friends Jeff, Jay, and Dennis drove to the city from Meadville and were there for a few nights. The other occasion was sometime in the early 1980s. That one got a bit weird.
Tomorrow I drive to Ovid for my talk at the public library. Edith B. Ford Library, 7pm. Hope to see you. I also expect to be there on Friday at noon for a brown bag lunch.
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.
I have just uploaded Frank C’s cases to the willardsuitcases.com site. His things are among the most important in the collection. There is so much to be learned from what he chose to bring with him to Willard, and from the letters he received while there. And he was such a handsome gentleman. Go to the site and click on “The Cases” and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Click on “Frank C” and make sure you click “view all” to see the photos.
I am so happy that the suitcases that were part of the Exploratorium exhibit have just arrived back at the storage facility. Among them are the last of the cases to be photographed. Yesterday Peg and I, along with museum staff, spent part of the day taking a look at the shipping containers and getting organized.
It has been a very emotional few weeks for me, as we are down to just 6 people left to photograph. It will be the end of over 4 years of shooting, and while in some ways, it is just the beginning of what will happen with the project, I am feeling a strong sense of change and loss.
Thanks for following the project, and for all the support that I receive from this fantastic virtual community.
I am often asked if I have a favorite suitcase or photo from the project. I don’t, really. But one recurring theme is the idea of knots. It started initially with the string that the museum used to secure the archival paper that helps to preserve each case. But soon I started to see them in the possessions of the patients, especially the clothing. Peg and I worked on more of Margaret D’s things yesterday, and this shot of a beautiful camisole shows a lovely little knot tied near one of the straps.
Here is an example from the outside of Eleanor G’s case.
I have been uploading more case to the willardsuitcases.com site. Check it out if you haven’t been there lately.
I started shooting the Willard Suitcases project on 17 March 2011, which is exactly four years ago today. I had no idea what I was doing, but knowing that I had access to one of the most unique collections of institutional artifacts anywhere, I figured something had to come of it. Here is a link to a post I put up the next day.
Peg and I spent the day continuing to work our way through Margaret D’s possessions.
The list above seems to be a resumé of sorts. And you can see Margaret’s will on the lower right.
A huge thank you goes out to everyone that has helped me with this work, and to those who have appreciated my efforts. All best, Jon
I have just uploaded a few more cases to the willardsuitcases.com site. Henry L’s cardboard box is one of the more interesting in the collection. This photograph was in the Exploratorium exhibit, and it is one that my friend Alex Ross printed at about 48 inches wide. It looks amazing huge.
Peg is back from her travels, and we hope to begin shooting again sometime this week. We are both eager to get back to it.
Have a great weekend, everyone.
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.