For 8 years I have photographed America’s historic mental institutions, our unrecognized castles. As I have traveled across the country I have interviewed former patients and staff members, combed through history and stories, and studied mental illness.
I am NOT a historian. I am the privileged keeper of a story that needs to be told. I am an artist, a gatherer of the pieces that have become “The Empty Places.” The Empty Places is a photo-documentary in progress about mental illness, about history, and about America. The Empty Places is about people, stories, hushed voices, dark secrets, harsh realities, troubling pasts and even more troubling futures. Mental illness has always been an uncomfortable subject and a misunderstood topic, but it is something that we cannot ignore. As I have been gathering the stories that fill these empty places, I have come to recognize that the one of the most important truths is that the People, both staff and former patients, do not want to be forgotten. They want their stories to be told, their stories to be heard. They wish for this life and these struggles to have meaning.
As mental illness is returning to prisons and filling our streets, funding continues to be cut. We are returning to a time in history that has already been deemed ineffective and inhumane. A time before institutions. A time when the mentally ill were ignored and locked up, wandered the streets, and were viewed as troublesome and tragic. We are repeating our mistakes. Institutions may not have been the answer, but I implore you to stop and ask, is this current alternative better? And if insanity is defined as repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results, who really are the insane ones?