Maybe like me you’re not only interested in finding immediate solutions for your depression problems. Of course that is important, but maybe like me you appreciate a wider perspective as well. For example by taking a look at the past.
We cannot just learn from the past. As I happened to illustrate in my previous post, we can also recognize the life and personalities of psychiatric patients from long ago. Their times and situation and treatment (if any) may have been different, but in essence they were people like us, with problems not really different from our own.
If you share this interest, then here is a remarkable photo project. It’s not just unique: in some respects it’s very touching as well.
What is this photo? It shows some things found in a suitcase.
When in 1995 the former Willard Asylum for the Insane (Ovid, New York) was closed down, in one of its attics about 400 forgotten suitcases were found. They once had belonged to patients, from the 1920s to the 1960s. The suitcases complete with their contents had been left behind after people died, went back home or were transferred to another place. Rather than discarding all unclaimed suitcases, the staff had carefully kept them in store.
In 2004, the New York State Museum in Albany opened an exposition showing a few of them: Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.
One of the people visiting this exposition was photographer John Crispin. He was fascinated enough to start an ambitious long-term project to carefully photograph everything – all those suitcases and what was in each of them.
Each one of the suitcases is a kind of time capsule, so each one of Crispin’s suitcase photos is a very specific, detailed, clear document of the past. At the same time his photos show, through the filter of semi-random trivial objects, what’s been left of these patients’ lives.
Crispin photo’s are respectful, and carefully composed, but they also become more mysterious the longer you look at them, because of all the unanswerable questions that arise, all the untold and perhaps tragic life stories that they suggest.
When I saw these photos I really felt a strong urge to rummage around in those suitcases myself, to find out more about the people who once arrived in the asylum carrying them.
I discovered Crispin’s photo project thanks to a recent Slate post by David Rosenberg, who shows some more photos.
But the best place to go is Jon Crispin’s own blog where he reports about the progress of his Willard Suitcases photo project, with many more photo examples. Do take a look!
There’s one more question that Crispin’s suitcase photos made me ask myself, and that I want to ask to you now.
Suppose you were to leave behind one such small suitcase yourself? As a time capsule for your great-grandchildren, to be opened 80 years from now?
Just a modest little suitcase with some simple small essential things that you would take on a trip, things that may represent you even when you’re long gone yourself: things that will show a glimpse of your life – with the people you loved, the depressions you suffered from, the way you tried to care for yourself, and so on.
Besides your obvious smartphone (and a battery charger that hopefully will work 80 years from now) what little things would you put in that suitcase?
Do you see? When you get this far, Crispin’s project may even tell you something about yourself.