jueves, 15 de abril de 2010

Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

For my birthday the boyfriend generously gave me a most amazing book of photography called Asylum, by Chris Payne, including an essay by Oliver Sacks.
The pictures are sadly beautiful and moving. Chris Payne is a master of capturing the traces of what occurred once upon a time. In the wards, bedrooms and hallways seems to lurk a lasting impression from the lives of those who lived and died there.

The impressive facades and living spaces, long abandoned cinemas and bowling alleys, and the once beautiful community gardens, all reflect the ideals of society at the time when these monumental buildings were constructed; to provide asylum in the literal sense; a sense of community, order, and a peaceful environment for those who had been robbed of these things by their mental affliction, a place "where one could be both mad and safe."

Many of the communities were entirely self-sufficient, producing their own power, treating their own water and manufacturing furniture, clothing and growing food. The downfall of this structure was due to the rise of psychotropic drugs in the middle of last century and the shift from remote locations to community-based treatment. These factors led to reduced populations in the institutions, meaning less free labor for the farming, sewing, cooking and other activities that went into making the places self-sufficient. There was also a law passed in the 1950s which barred any patient in a hospital from any form of labour, as it was considered to be exploitative.

The photos are testimony to the heartbreak of living with mental illness and to magnificent spaces where patients were paid respect and given in many cases, a sense of purpose and meaning.

The book pays tribute to the grandeur of these buildings which seems to prevail in spite of the peeling paint, caving floors and crumbling walls.
Above all, they are reminder that society's ideals deteriorate more rapidly than the structures built to facilitate them.

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