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October 1, 2009

I got an advanced proof of Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals by architect and photographer Christopher Payne  some time ago. But not until I really glimpsed and held the finished book did the power of his images, a six-year documentation of America's crumbling state mental institutions, come through.

asylum-book-St-Elizabeth-Autopsy-Theater.jpg

The bright fiberglass shell chairs seen here in the autopsy theater of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC do little to brighten the grim scene.
The bright fiberglass shell chairs seen here in the autopsy theater of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC do little to brighten the grim scene.
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asylum-book-Rockland-shoes.jpg

Apparently Rockland State Hospital in Orangeburg, New York, had a bowling alley, replete with a battery of old shoes.
Apparently Rockland State Hospital in Orangeburg, New York, had a bowling alley, replete with a battery of old shoes.
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asylum-book-Logansport-Straightjacket.jpg

This straitjacket from Logansport State Hospital in Logansport, Indiana, is typical of what was used to constrain patients.
This straitjacket from Logansport State Hospital in Logansport, Indiana, is typical of what was used to constrain patients.
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asylum-book-Norwich-Exterior.jpg

Things are rather overgrown at Norwich State Hospital in Preston, Connecticut.
Things are rather overgrown at Norwich State Hospital in Preston, Connecticut.
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A night shot of Buffalo State Hospital in New York is foreboding at best, terrifying at worst.
A night shot of Buffalo State Hospital in New York is foreboding at best, terrifying at worst.
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This lone bathtub against a sea of tile was used by patients at Fairfield State Hospital in Newtown, Connecticut.
This lone bathtub against a sea of tile was used by patients at Fairfield State Hospital in Newtown, Connecticut.
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asylum-book-SpringGrove-Boxes.jpg

Crumbling paint serves as a proper backdrop to these boxes of files and state records at Spring Grove State Hospital in Cantonsville, Maryland.
Crumbling paint serves as a proper backdrop to these boxes of files and state records at Spring Grove State Hospital in Cantonsville, Maryland.
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asylum-book-Danvers-Demolition.jpg

This photo shows the demolition of the Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts.
This photo shows the demolition of the Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts.
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Paint coming off the bottom of this staircase makes an abstract sculpture at Harlem Valley State Hospital in Wingdale, New York.
Paint coming off the bottom of this staircase makes an abstract sculpture at Harlem Valley State Hospital in Wingdale, New York.
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asylum-book-Kankakee-Ward.jpg

This was a typical ward at Kanakee State Hospital in Kanakee, Illinois.
This was a typical ward at Kanakee State Hospital in Kanakee, Illinois.
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The auditorium at Connecticut Valley State Hospital in Middletown was called Noble Hall.
The auditorium at Connecticut Valley State Hospital in Middletown was called Noble Hall.
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asylum-book-Harlem-Valley-RedHall.jpg

Fabric hangs from the wall in this remodeled dormitory ward at the Harlem Valley State Hospital in Wingdale, New York.
Fabric hangs from the wall in this remodeled dormitory ward at the Harlem Valley State Hospital in Wingdale, New York.
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The cemetery at the Connecticut Valley State Hospital in Middletown is like something out of Poe.
The cemetery at the Connecticut Valley State Hospital in Middletown is like something out of Poe.
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Unclaimed copper cremation urns line the walls of a storeroom in the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.
Unclaimed copper cremation urns line the walls of a storeroom in the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.
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asylum-book-Clarinda.jpg

This space-age device is an electroencephalograph and was photographed at the Clarinda State Hospital in Clarinda, Iowa.
This space-age device is an electroencephalograph and was photographed at the Clarinda State Hospital in Clarinda, Iowa.
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Patients stores their suitcases in the attic at Bolivar State Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee.
Patients stores their suitcases in the attic at Bolivar State Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee.
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The bright fiberglass shell chairs seen here in the autopsy theater of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC do little to brighten the grim scene.
The bright fiberglass shell chairs seen here in the autopsy theater of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC do little to brighten the grim scene.

From the detritus of harrowing lives to the physical decay of the buildings themselves, Payne gives us the state of things with the bark on. The state being largely neglectfull with the patients turned out onto the streets as policy shifted under President Reagan. Astoundingly beautiful work on a subject that rarely gets the attention. An essay by Oliver Sacks accompanies the photographs—visit this slideshow to see some of the images from the book.

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