Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals
Photography by Christopher Payne.
Essay by Oliver Sacks. MIT Press
Insane asylum. For many people the phrase conjures up images of desperate patients trapped in concrete fortresses. Although abuse no doubt has occurred in some mental hospitals, there is another, much less frequently explored side to the story.
In his surprisingly arresting photoessay book, Asylum, photographer and architect Christopher Payne reveals that mental institutions were quite often considered the pride of local communities across the U.S. in the 19th century, providing a safe haven and humane care for the mentally ill. Through his camera lens, Payne pays tribute to these now empty places, capturing abandoned palatial redbrick estates, grand theaters, long, deserted hallways with light streaming through arched windows, and peeled paint gathering on the floor.
Neuroscientist Oliver Sacks provides a stirring introduction. Payne’s images, Sacks says, are testimony to the “heartbreak” of living with mental illness and to magnificent spaces where patients were paid respect and given “a vital sense of companionship and community.”