Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pennhurst Asylum

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I went uninformed, nothing more than a gawker at an accident. I knew a bit about the scandals of Pennhurst Asylum and thought I understood the process by which such places, however good the initial intentions, become underfunded warehouses of abuse. It's not my habit to gawk.  I like to understand the places I photograph, but circumstances and time and there I was. It didn't help that at a certain season it drew crowds from far away to see it ghoulishly costumed as a Halloween haunted house. The haunted house remained set up in the administration building and was simply refurbished each year. Otherwise, what struck me was how ordinary and respectable Pennhurst seemed. 

It could have been the campus of a college or a prep school, but for one odd feature. Because my first visit took me only around the perimeter, it took awhile to discover it. Paths lead through quadrangles between the buildings, but unlike the paths on most such campuses, Pennshurst's paths were all four or five feet above the land around them and lined with railings to keep one from falling off. I learned later that the paths were, in fact, on top of windowless, concrete tunnels that connected all of the buildings. They were not merely service tunnels but the daily passageways used by inmates and staff.

Places such as Pennhurst thrive by looking ordinary and respectable, Horrors and heroes are hidden by brick and ivy; it is for that reason hallowed ground. What does it mean to photograph respectfully here?

I recommend visiting this site to learn more: http://pennhurstproject.com/Intro.html

NOTE: For some reason this image always looks different after upload here than it does in any other forum. My monitor is calibrated, and this image is meant to have considerable shadow area. When posted here the shadows are brighter. I have adjusted this version of the image to compensate for Blogger's effect. If anyone knows what's going on here, please leave a note.  The image was uploaded in sRGB.