Asylum Suitcases, Found And Photographed

Ed. Note: This article was originally published Nov. 2, 2011.

Photographer Jon Crispin has a fascination with things that are left behind. Those are his exact words. "Even as a kid I was trying to get into places I shouldn't go," he says on the phone.

In the '80s he was basically given free rein to document abandoned asylums in New York state. He has also worked closely and often with the New York State Museum, including on some Sept. 11 preservation projects.

Crispin's latest fascination is with old suitcases — discovered by the New York State Museum in an attic of the Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, N.Y. "The cases were put into storage when their owners were admitted to Willard sometime between 1910 and the 1960s," Crispin explains on a Kickstarter page, where he is raising funds to continue photographing. "And since the facility was set up to help people with chronic mental illness, these folks never left."

There are about 400 suitcases in the collection, many of them empty. The contents in the suitcases — and the suitcases themselves — have been wrapped in archival paper by the museum. Crispin's stylistic approach is to photograph the wrapping, the exterior, the interior and finally details of the contents.

"I try to make them look as beautiful as they are," he says. "And they're touching too. My goal as a photographer is to have people react." The suitcases contain letters that were never mailed, diaphanous cigarette papers, a glass bottle of glycerin left behind by a craftswoman — tiny parts of a forgotten whole.

"I am so interested in these cases," Crispin writes. "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." You can follow the suitcase documentary project on his blog, where he muses in real time with each photograph.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Rita Dove: "Collected Poems: 1974 - 2004"

Rita Dove's poetry career has spanned more than forty years. During that time she won a Pulitzer Prize and became the first African-American poet laureate of the United States. Now she's released a new edition of collected works. Rita Dove on a life lived in verse.

NPR

Frozen Food Fears: 4 Things To Know About The Listeria Recall

The FDA issued a massive recall of frozen fruits and vegetables this week. Here's what you need to know about the nasty bug that's causing all the problems.
WAMU 88.5

Back From The Breach: Moving The Federal Workforce Forward

A year after a massive cyber breach compromised the databases of the Office of Personnel Management, Kojo talks with OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert about her agency and key issues facing the federal workforce.

WAMU 88.5

Why Medical Error Is The Third Leading Cause Of Death In The U.S.

New research shows medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 250,000 people a year. Why there are so many mistakes, and what can be done to improve patient safety.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.