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.
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.
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
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.