Asylum: Christopher Payne

Many years ago I had the opportunity to photograph the interior of an abandoned hospital and there was certainly something in the atmosphere there that I responded to although I don’t think I truly managed to capture it in my pictures (though I think I did a bit better in a later project on abandoned workplaces in London’s docks which are on my long list of work to put on line at some point.) But it perhaps gives the work of architect and a photographer Christopher Payne’s photographs in his recently published book “Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals” from the MIT Press a personal resonance they might otherwise not have.

Certainly I was very impressed by the slide show of this work, Emptied But Still Secret,  on the NY Times Lens blog yesterday.  For me it is very much the details that speak most strongly – the racks of patients’ toothbrushes, the bathtub in a vast area of floor and blue tiles,  a white straightjacket hanging on a white wall, and the details of the beauty salon. Although some of the interior scenes are also impressive, it’s perhaps where the work becomes more architectural photography – and particularly in a couple of exterior views – that I lose interest.

Of course I’ve photographed many buildings myself, some well, many badly. Most pretty averagely, and these two images would appear to me to fall squarely into that category. A shame when the some of the other work is so strong.

Payne‘s web site does have some fine black and white architectural work – including a nice series on substations and some pictures from New York’s High Line.

Which reminds me of a quite different set of pictures that I wrote about some years ago, Joel Sternfeld‘s 2000-2001  High Line series, which can still be seen on the High Line site, where you can also see work by a number of other photographers, particularly in the section headed ‘Art Photography.’

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