The world I explore is a world left behind.
I grew up in the midst of State Hospital reform. It was a time to look ahead and not take a second look back. I now understand what my parents threats to "put me away" actually meant. Looking back, this history was happening around me and I had no clue.
Fast forward ten years. Attending college in Boston, I needed to fulfill an elective course and signed up for Psychology 101, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Our second class, Dr. John Gostan walked in without a word, turned the projector on and dimmed the lights. That night changed my life.
Filmed in 1967, "Titicut Follies" had been illegal to own in the state of Massachusetts since its release in 1968. It is the only American film banned from distribution for reasons other than obscenity or national security. Dr. John had to drive five hours to upstate New York to get his copy on VHS. Filmed in 1967, it documented life in Bridgewater State Hospital, a prison hospital for the criminally insane. The main reason for major reform in State Hospitals and the care they provided, "Titicut Follies" brought to light the controversy of (mis)treatment of these patients. It captured in film, how rather than being treated like human beings, patients were handled in a manner more fitting of cattle. The end result was a complete reevaluation of psychiatric treatment that eventually led to mass deinstitutionalization. Many State Hospitals across the country closed forever.
Developmental delays like Autism were identified in the early 1900's, but didn't become widely understood until the 1990's. Had he been born 50 years earlier, my brother Joe would have ended up in one of these places, only when it came to children they were called State Schools, Training Schools, or Schools for the Feeble-Minded. Children who were thought to have mental retardation were classified into three groups depending on their condition; idiots, imbeciles or morons. Parents were told they couldn't be taught, that the best thing they could do for their child was to make them comfortable and get on with their lives.
Castles once built to house the insane and unwanted now sit useless and decaying. The years of neglect have turned these dead buildings into living creatures. They are beautiful and dangerous entities that sense and react to your presence. One wrong step and you can become just another one of their stories. I enter these buildings with a great deal of reverence and a camera. Walking the silent halls, I hear the stories of the people who lived their lives within them. Patients, staff, administrators, visitors, their stories are all still there, trapped within walls longing for someone to listen.
Very few people see the places I explore. I feel honored to know the intimacy of these buildings, like close friends. With each visit, something's always changed. A chair has moved across the room, floors I've walked countless times have collapsed under the weight of desertion. Colors change with seasons, moods change with the sun. With every visit I see the earth is gradually reclaiming what is rightfully hers, slowly healing the pain that human beings have brought upon each other.
These photographs are as much miracles of light as they are sweat and blood. While making the images you see here, I've felt floors shift beneath my feet and other times I've fallen right through them. Holding my breath, I've silently hid in innumerable attics, tunnels, rooms and crevices. On other occasions I've ran breathlessly through dark tunnels and climbed into the most unstable parts of buildings. I have felt wire pierce my hand, my only choice to continue to pull myself up and over what I was hanging from. I've fallen 16 feet to meet the ground with a broken arm, dislocated shoulder and three dislocated ribs. Under my care, my cameras have all remained unharmed.
The beauty and history I see in these buildings are what draw me in. The stories they tell will keep me coming back.