Yesterday my day started by washing Cristine’s “smalls” as my sister calls them. I especially like the “It’s a beautiful day, don’t fuck it up” socks. Everything looked so nice hanging up in the bathroom.
I have had an amazing couple of days since then, and I will be working on getting a post up soon. Tomorrow we fly to Achham in Western Nepal in order to visit some schools, and I am really eager to photograph out there.
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 think Pieper was the first person I knew that wore Walk-Over Bucks. They were part of the uniform of a small group of us in Ithaca in the 70’s. Bucks, blue jeans, oxford shirt, and sometimes a tie if you were working or otherwise trying to fit in with people who cared about those things. I must have owned at least five pairs over the years. I have a basic wardrobe rule of thumb that you can wear pretty much anything below the belt as long as you have on a clean oxford shirt and a tie, hence the blue jean/bucks combo. This particular pair was the last I was able to find. I bought them in the early 90’s at Mathew’s Shoes (long since out of business) in downtown Amherst, and I think that Walk-Over had already ceased to be by that time. I wasn’t able to find another pair anywhere and assumed that the company was done for. / In yesterday’s Times I saw an article about how this type of shoe is making a comeback and was shocked to see a pair of Walk-Overs in a photograph. Someone has resurrected the brand and they are making them again. They are now $225.00 but still probably worth the money. I break this pair out once in a while and I think it is time to take them to the local cobbler to be resoled.
I’m not sure yet where I am going with this project, but I wanted to post some shots for feedback. / In 1995, the New York State Museum staff were moving items out of The Willard Psychiatric Center. It was being closed by the State Office of Mental Health, and would eventually become a state run drug rehabilitation center. Craig Williams was made aware of an attic full of suitcases in the pathology lab building. The cases were put into storage when their owners were admitted to Willard, and since the facility was set up to help people with chronic mental illness, these folks never left.
The Museum made arrangements to have the suitcases moved to the Rotterdam storage facility, where staff have catalogued each one, and have carefully wrapped and preserved their contents.
An exhibit of a selection of the cases was produced by the Museum and was on display in Albany in 2003 or 2004. It has also traveled around New York State. It was very moving to read the stories of these people, and to see artifacts from their lives before they became residents of the Asylum.
This particular case belonged to Freda B…..(I would really like to use her whole name here, but there is a massive debate going on as to whether people who have been at Willard and other psyc centers need to be protected by privacy laws. I come down strongly on the side that it is dehumanizing and stigmatizing to pretend that she doesn’t have a surname.)
I am so interested in these cases. I like the idea of documenting the care and energy that the Museum has put into them. And I am totally wigged out by being able to photograph a representation of the lives of people who struggled so much to make it in a very stressful and confusing world.
It is still early days, and I am struggling a bit as to how I should approach this. The cases have been photographed before, but in a totally different manner. The first hurdle seems to be cleared; I have access. The next is time, which I think I can manage. The big one is funding, which is something on which I need to work. And finally, what could come out of the project. An exhibit would be nice, or maybe a book.
I have been working on some ideas with Dr Karen Miller, a writer and psychiatrist. She has also been spending time with the cases, and doing research on the lives of people who were at Willard. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, feel free to send this link around to anyone who might be interested. And any feedback would be appreciated.
I will admit to a certain vanity about clothing. I mostly wear a variation of the same thing everyday, which makes life easier in the mornings. I have a real issue with outerwear though. I love jackets, hats and gloves. It is probably why Summer is my least favorite time of the year. I remember as a kid in Meadville looking forward to Autumn because it meant I could wear coats again. When I lived in Ithaca in the 70s, my friend Robby Aceto had a pair of these gloves. There was a shop in the DeWitt Mall that sold outdoor kit and they carried Millar Mitts. I bought a pair and completely wore them out over a period of 5 years. Replacing my worn out pair was really difficult. Nobody in the States seemed to carry them, and I think the company went out of business. They were made in the UK by Millar Gloves, Bingham, Nottinghamshire. On one of my trips to London in the mid 80s I found a single pair in a shop in the Burlington Arcade. The backs are wool and the palms are cotton string. Wearing them is such a treat. The wool isn’t itchy, but you always know when you have them on. In an odd way they are very sensual. / I took the train to New York on Thursday for some work and since I knew I would be shooting outside, I broke out these guys. It makes me happy just to look at them.