Yesterday, Sassafras Lowrey, Syd London, and I went on an incredible adventure. Sassafras and I were on a mission to get new publicity photos for PoMo Freakshow, as well as getting new shots for our individual work. For my individual shoot, we visited a deserted old asylum.
I had envisioned some sort of abandoned hospital building as the location when I was first imagining the shots, but I didn’t think it was realistic. I thought there would be too many barriers (physical, mental, and emotional) to that sort of space. I was absolutely thrilled when our photographer, Syd London, told me that she had found an abandoned building outside the city that we could use.
We set out mid-morning to find the building. Figuring out the location had been a challenge– not surprisingly, Google doesn’t always have the street addresses for buildings that have been deserted for decades. To pinpoint the location, I used a map of the county from the early 1900s, back when the building was an active asylum. I checked the nearby cross-streets on the old map, then used those to get directions. We left Brooklyn with our fingers crossed that my cartographical sleuthing would lead us to the abandoned building of our dreams.
We found the building exactly where the old map had promised, decrepit and dilapidated and begging to be photographed. As we approached the building, a sudden scrambling noise alerted us that we were not alone– several squirrels raced out of one window and into another, disturbed from their privacy and apparently quite displeased with the interruption. Their scurrying and the rustling of birds nesting in the upper floors echoed throughout the rooms, making an already eerie locale feel absolutely haunted. I was glad to be there in broad daylight.
The door of the building was hanging open, and I didn’t know quite what to expect when we walked in. We found an utterly abandoned interior, with hospital furniture haphazardly piled and overturned. Fallen plaster, dry leaves, and other debris covered the floor. Many of the windows were broken, as were several doors. Some rooms were charred and burnt, suggesting a fire had once raged down the hallway. Though my research suggested the building had only been deserted for a few decades, it felt as if it had been empty for much longer.
When I agreed to do the shoot in an abandoned hospital, I knew it would be an intense experience– 348 is all about how we abandon teenagers in the mental health system, so shooting in a former asylum felt particularly evocative. I had not expected the decaying building to so strongly recall my own experience of being locked up. The room for solitary confinement, the metal spring bed frames, the group showers. As we set up the shots, I was rocketing between past and present, reminding myself that I was there on my own terms, now.
For the entire shoot, Syd London was a delight to work with. She was extremely professional about getting the shots that we wanted, but also playful enough to keep our spirits up when the tension of the eerie location started to heavily weigh in.
We shot in five different rooms before we decided it was time to head back to the city, leaving the abandoned building to memory and irritated squirrels.
I’ll be posting more of the results of the shoot over the next few days, but I’ve included a few as a teaser for now. Getting these photos was simultaneously terrifying and liberating. I never thought that I would willingly walk back into a mental hospital…. and even though it was abandoned, I still felt like I was escaping when we left.