Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Joseph A #3

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It took a while, but I finally finished editing Joseph’s two trunks.  Peg and I worked on them on two different days, three weeks apart and the photos did not end up in a logical sequence.  It took me a while to organize them for the suitcases site.

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Setting up and shooting cases containing lots of clothes presented challenges.  We always strove to make the arrangements look natural, but I in particular dreaded the days where all we had to work with was clothing.

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Another shout out to Peggy Ross here.  The museum had individually conserved each item and assigned it a unique catalogue number.  In instances of larger collections like Joseph’s, the items were stored not in the cases themselves, but in archival museum boxes.  Peg was instrumental in helping with the setup by unwrapping each piece and making notes about the box from which the items came, then helping me lay them out.

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I would then make a number of wide shots, and finally move in for the details.  Once the arrangement was in place, I rarely if ever moved the objects around.  I’m not sure why, but it was important to me to maintain the integrity of the original setup.  Once I finished shooting, Peg would rewrap each item in the original conservation material and return it back into the museum storage boxes.  In retrospect it is not surprising that it took  us over five years to shoot all the cases, and that it is taking me another two years to edit everything.  I am making great progress though.

I would also mention that the clothing photographs are now among my favorites.

Thanks for following.  If you want to see all of the photos from Joseph’s cases, click this link.  Don’t forget to click on the “view all” button.  The default setting only shows the first 25 images.

 

Willard Suitcases / Joseph A’s Wife

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that Joseph had two trunks in the collection and that one of them contained his wife’s clothes.

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An aspect of this project that I find most interesting is to do with questions that arise from looking at the possessions of the patients.  We know from yesterday’s post that Joseph’s trunks arrived more than a year after he was admitted.  The fact that so much of his wife’s clothing was sent to him makes me wonder if she was alive for part of that year, or if she had died before August of 1945 when he was admitted.  Did her death have something to do with his troubles?  Who sent the trunks to Willard over a year after he became a patient?

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There are, of course, answers to most of these questions.  They are in the patient records that are housed in the New York State Archives.  Due to state law and the policies of the State Office of Mental Health, almost no one (including the descendants of Willard patients) has access to these documents.

Early on in the project, I came to realize that my photographs could encourage viewers to think about the residents of Willard in a manner that went beyond their diagnoses.  In most ways, the official records are not relevant to my feelings about the 400+ people whose cases are in the collection.  As I continue to edit the images, my connection to the patients and staff at Willard continues to grow.

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Peg Ross and I came across numerous small doggies as we were shooting the suitcases.  This one is particularly cute.

I’ll have more to post tomorrow.  Cheers all.

Willard Suitcases / Joseph A

This week I have begun editing Joseph A’s two trunks.  I expect it will take quite a while to get through all the photographs, as one trunk contains a ton of his clothing and the other is full of his wife’s possessions. I hope to post daily as I work through the collection.

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I don’t believe I have posted an inventory before.  This one appears to have been put together by Willard employee M. McCarry; you can see her name on the bottom right.  Joseph was admitted in August of 1945, but it seems his trunks did not arrive at Willard until April of 1946.  Some of the annotations are interesting, especially the notes that indicate that some of the clothing was with him on the ward.

I won’t be uploading the entire collection for several days, but will hope to post a few photos from it daily.  Thanks for following.

Willard Suitcases / Joseph A / Peggy Ross

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 24/11/2014

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.

Willard Suitcases / Joseph A. and a presentation in Auburn, NY

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 31/10/2014

I am back shooting suitcases after a bit of a break.  Peg has been traveling as have I, and it feels great to be working on the project again. / Joseph A. has a huge number of items in the collection.  There were about 15 museum boxes in one of the big storage containers.  It is always a bit intimidating with so many artifacts, especially when a large number of the items are clothing.  In Joseph’s case it was interesting because half of the clothes were women’s.  It wasn’t until we got deep into the setup that we found this card with the “Wife’s clothing” writing on it.  As with most of the information that we glean from the objects, we can only guess the circumstances of Joseph’s admission to Willard.  In this case though, it is very likely that his wife was deceased and he brought all her things with him.  (This included a ton of household items such as sheets, towels, napkins, etc.)  Very sad and touching.

I will be presenting the project at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, NY on (next) Wednesday the 5th of November.  The event is at the Auburn Public Theatre at 7.00 PM and there is a $10.00 admission fee ($5.00 for members).  I will also be talking about my NY State prison documentation project.  If you follow this blog, please come up and say hi.  It would be great to meet you.

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