Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Middletown State Hospital

Revisiting a trip that took place in late fall one year, where the last warm rays of sun struggle against the oncoming cold light that winter produces. I love both types of light for photography- they both produce such dynamically different results.

These New York winters are fairly dismal and cold though, and it's always refreshing to get some warming light flooding the halls of these old psychiatric buildings. It becomes easier to remember the human element, to recall the hundreds of lives affected by these institutions, both the good and the bad.

Far too often I'm repulsed by seeing these beautiful historic places turned into cliche subjects of B-movies. Flaunted as haunted, wards for psycho-killers (Qu'est-ce que c'est?), the images become those of electroshock machines, botched lobotomies, straightjackets and padded walls. I understand the macabre fascination here- most institution conditions were horrible. I just don't see how making movies like "Death Tunnel" and "Madhouse" do even the sheerly exploitative fascination with insane asylums any justice.

I have my own aesthetic loves in hospitals. I love lonely chairs, rotary phones, and solariums. And keys.

I  couldn't begin to shake a stick at the number of wheelchairs I've seen in the past few years, but seeing a neglected storage room full of them still inspires great emotion. From the tiny chairs for children, to the potty chairs for the incontinent, to every conceivable style of reclining, stationary, restraint-laden, angled, metal, wood, PVC and everything between- to know each of these was used by a disabled person to grant them mobility, often in an enclosed, closely supervised environment is still a testament to their human qualities.

But I digress- back to my late autumn hospital. Middletown State Hospital is located in New York state, several hours' drive north of the City, I found it to exude warmth. A  reasonably small psychiatric building as compared to some I've seen, the luminosity of its walls, the lack of vandalism, the sprawling day rooms all brought a sense of community to the building.

Late afternoon light through an empty room.

A wooden seclusion room door with an inset 1" thick piece of circular glass. The shadows are cast from the barred window within the room.

A green day room.

Warm corridor looking down on multiple seclusion rooms.

Multi-colored connector hallway. Long exposure shot using the last 10 minutes of light streaming through the hospital.

Dark hallway as the sun has nearly set.

Collapsed floor- a lot of the building is suffering from severe structural decay and multiple floors have collapsed, some on top of one another.

Old hairdryer, moved into the collapsed cafeteria on the bottom floor of the building at some point when the building was being vacated.

Small a building as it was, Middletown is among my favorite state hospitals.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Creedmoor State Hospital

I hear he also has a bridge to sell us

I've got a bridge to sell ya...

I hope tonight's protest of the Brooklyn Museum's poorly-thought out gala commending Ratner goes well. I like the arts. I went to school for art. I work in the arts. I like looking at art, making art, buying art, critiquing art, poking fun at art, and being awed by art.

That being said, being an art enthusiast, I don't spend my free time, when not supporting or creating art, kicking people out of their homes and building arenas where they once lived.

But that's just me.

Some good links regarding the protest:
The Village Voice
The Gowanus Lounge
Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn

A venture outside of Brooklyn brings us to Queens- to the Creedmoor psychiatric center. While it is still an active campus, a few old buildings, dejected and emptied during the era of deinstitutionalization, sit scattered on a parcel of land in Queens county- overlooking small boxy townhouses on one side of the street, blocked off by an on-site police station on another side, and slowly witnessing the gradual influx of construction vehicles and the building heaps of rubble around what used to be various medical buildings. The occasional resident can be seen sitting on a bench or walking down a poorly kept sidewalk.

I'd give more history on this magnificent building, which includes artifacts like typewriters, lithography presses, chairs, patient murals, dressers, files, barred windows on every floor in every room, and seclusion wards that break off the main hallways like spokes...

But I spent last night in the Atlantic Yards footprint, watching people carry on their lives, walk their dogs, push their kids along in strollers, walk alone and smoke, et cetera... and I just felt generally at a loss. There's so much to document and experience and I'll never get to most of it. I'll let the photos I do have speak for themselves.

An old metal sink, illuminated by late afternoon sun.

Cash register, perhaps the best summarizing photo for this post.

A patient's dresser. One room had dozens of these, stored side by side, all identical.

A green, lonely chair at the far end of the building.

A mostly incomplete character tray, holding the type for a litho press next to this set of drawers. Most of the type had been dumped haphazardly about the floor.

The structure of this building- typically with larger patient dorms on the western side and smaller corridors containing seclusion rooms on the east- caught light beautifully at any time of day. At the crux of these 8-way spokes' in the hallway intersections, the light would stream in across the angled hallways and create a giant "X" in the middle of the floor.

A filthy mattress in a corner. I was amazed by the paint in this room; heavily water damaged, the layers of green look similar to the oxidized patina of weather copper.

I'll be curious to see the turnout tonight, should I be able to make it...