I just got word that the governor of New York State has signed Senate Bill S840A. Here is the summary of the bill; “(Senate Bill S840A ) relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries; directs the release of the name, birthdate and date of death of certain patients 50 years after the date of death”. I am not totally clear about what “certain patients” means, and to whom this information may be released, but this is certainly good news. Here is a link to two earlier posts I did about the cemetery and the whole issue of names. Click on Coleen Spellecy’s and Lin Stuhler’s links to read about the two people who did the most to get this bill through the legislature. And thanks to Joe Robach for being persistent in getting the bill passed and signed into law.
The issue of not being allowed to name the owners of the suitcases has always bothered me. I have been expressly told by both the New York State Museum and the New York Office of Mental Health that due to state law, I am forbidden to use the surnames of the patients when I publish the photographs, even though some of those names have already been mentioned in local newspapers and in other sources. I feel that not using surnames continues to dehumanize the folks who were already stigmatized just by being patients at Willard. Due to this new law, it might be possible, in some instances, to begin using full names. All in all, this is a pretty exciting development.
Thanks for following and check out the suitcases site to see the latest.
Even though my summer has been scattered location-wise, I have been able to work regularly on editing the suitcases, and have been able to upload a good number of them to the Willard Suitcases site. Click on “The Cases” to see the latest. Theresa F was admitted to Willard on 3 April 1935.
It might be a good time to mention a couple of upcoming events where I will be talking about the project. In early October I will be traveling to Galveston to speak at NAMIFEST 2016. NAMI is a national organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families dealing with issues of mental illness. I’ll be speaking at the dinner event on Friday (the 7th). If you have been following the project and live in the Gulf Coast area, please think about attending.
The following week, I will be speaking at a very interesting event in Raleigh, NC. The “Lives on the Hill” project is being organized by the North Carolina Health News folks, and will be highlighting the shuttered Dix Hospital property in downtown Raleigh. I will be speaking at the Sunday (the 16th) event taking place at the Student Center on the NC State Campus. There will also be an exhibit of the photographs up for the entire month of October. I’ll update about the location once those details are finalized.
It is very exciting to be involved in both of these events, and I am really looking forward to being a part of them.
Several months ago I was contacted by the Brazilian publisher Compania Das Letras about the suitcases project being included in a book by Dorrit Harazim. They have been really great to deal with, but I wasn’t entirely clear about the nature of the project. When I got back from Nepal, a copy was waiting for me in my post office box. It seems to be a collection of essays about photographs (it is in Portuguese so I am not sure), and I was amazed to see the other photographers that were included. Several Magnum photographers are involved along with Gordon Parks and Vivian Maier and some other illustrious names. I am thrilled an honored to be a part of it. “O instante certo” translated roughly to “the right moment”. It is available through Amazon, so if you read Portuguese it might be nice to get a copy.
The article on the suitcases translates to “travel without return”. I would be happy if the book was translated into English at some point, but in the meantime, I’ll ask for a pdf and plug it into google translate.
The first few days I was in Nepal I had time in the mornings to edit some suitcase photographs. Upload speeds were really slow, so I didn’t get to add them to the site until today. You might want to check willardsuitcases.com to see some new ones. Scroll down to the bottom of the “Cases” page to see the latest additions.
Ida’s suitcase was mostly empty except for a comb, some wrapping paper, and a label. I really like this photograph.
I am in a phase of editing the suitcases where I have shifted from working on mostly full ones to ones that are largely empty save for labels. This is Elaine G’s leather grip. Nice hats, a lovely porcelain figurine and a Bible. Check out the suitcases site to see the latest uploads.
James arrived at Willard on 15 February 1961. I like how the staff identified his case as “clothlike”. I think it was actually real cloth.
And Carrie was admitted on 21 March 1930.
I am really facinated by the labels as they reveal quite a bit about the folks who owned the cases.
I was in DC earlier this week and had an interesting meeting with one of the curators at the National Portrait Gallery. This is the atrium that they share with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is an amazing building with a fantastic collection.
Harry M’s case wasn’t technically a suitcase, but it contained some interesting things.
I’m not sure what the wooden object on the left is, but the Latimer White Petroleum Jelly label is quite nice. And the Prell shampoo bottle is classic. The label had fallen off, but it has the “Rinse, Lather, Repeat” admonition that got consumers to use twice as much as they probably needed.
I have been editing and uploading more of the suitcases, and you can see the latest here. Just click on “The Cases” at the top of the page. Thanks for following.
L. W.’s case was largely empty save for this purple piece of rope and a half-smoked cigar. It stikes me as a pretty good metaphor for a life interrupted. You can check out the other photographs on the suitcases site. Thanks for following, and I wish you all a lovely weekend.
I mentioned earlier this week that I was hoping to get Charles F’s photographs uploaded by the end of the week, and here is a sample. To see the rest of the collection, please go to the Willard Suitcases site.
From the little I know about Charles, he came to Willard somewhat later in his life. I have no way of knowing if the portrait in the above photograph is he, or someone near to him, but whenever I think about his life, this image comes to mind.
The tassels on his tallit are especially evocative to me.
I believe that this is the publisher of some of his books. I did a search for it but came up empty. Any help would be welcome.
His starched collars were still in quite good condition.
I have no way of knowing if he was in the military, but I would guess that this canteen was army surplus.
Here is a close up of his naturalization papers, which date to October of 1896.
Many of the suitcases in the collection contain scraps of paper with hand-written notes on them. I find that these can be especially interesting.
One of Charles’ cases had this selection tools (and a razor).
Please check out the rest of my photographs of Charles’ possessions on the suitcases site, and thanks for following.
I am attempting to make a push to upload as many new cases as I can over the next few months.
George C’s case is really blue! It was empty save for a label. You can see the other photos at the willardsuitcases.com site. I am uploading the cases chronologically, and this is the beginning of a run of empty cases. I ran the second kickstarted appeal specifically to document the entire collection, and even the empty ones are important to me. (By the way, thanks to Peggy Ross for convincing me how important it was to photograph every case. I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without her help and support.)
One case stands out in this sequence though, especially as it was anything but empty. Charles F’s possessions were amazing. It will take me days to go through it all, but I hope to have it up by the end of next week. Above is his certificate of naturalization. On the left you can see the list of clothing that came with him to Willard. More soon.
Thanks for following.
Very shortly after the first Willard Suitcases kickstarter went up I received an email from Jessica Helfand expressing her interest in the project. She soon invited me down to New Haven to speak to her Yale freshman seminar class, “Studies in Visual Biography”. Here is a post I did just after that first visit. I have subsequently been to her class on several other occasions and it is always very stimulating and fun.
As well as teaching at Yale, Jessica and her late husband Bill Drenttel created Design Observer, which is a fantastic website devoted to creativity and design. That description doesn’t do it justice though, as it is so much more than that. It is really worth checking out on a regular basis. In addition to the site, Design Observer recently started publishing a quarterly magazine. The second issue is just out, and they included a huge spread on the suitcases. I am just so honored to be a part of the issue, and it looks great. Here is a link to purchase it, and I would really recommend all of you interested in the project to do so. It includes many suitcase photographs that haven’t been published before. Special thanks go to Eugenia Bell, who did a great job selecting the images, and making sure it all came together. She was a joy to work with.
As we were saying goodbye after that first class at Yale, Jessica reached out, hugged me and said “We’re friends now!” It was a most touching gesture and I have rarely felt so quickly welcomed into someone’s life. She has been a massive supporter of the project who has helped me in so many ways, and I am very fortunate to be her friend.