There were some photos I considered finished but didn’t print for my final review because they didn’t quite fit in with the rest. They would when/if the series is continued.
I also might have printed at the last minute.
Thanks for reading.
The last location I photographed was easily the most eerie. Founded in 1888 and known by many names ranging from “Vineland Training School for Backward and Feeble-Minded Children” to simply “Vineland Training School,” it had a very different approach to treating institutionalized children. I have very conflicting feelings about their treatment. On one hand, this colony provided children floundering in the public school system a place to develop skills and occupy their mind. The patients (students?) ran a large farm. Peaches, corn, livestock–they tended to it all and were said to have great pride in their work. Having skills to live on after leaving the school was a huge improvement in the mental health care system for minors. The farm also helped irrigation studies and agricultural research for many universities.
But not all of the children were mentally handicapped– some were just ill-behaved or poor. They not only used these children for the farm, but the construction of the site’s many buildings–free labor provided by children, most of which could not even truly give consent. And there’s the matter of their most (in)famous leading psychologist, Henry H. Goddard. Coiner of the term “moron.” Like our old friend DeJarnette, he was a eugenicist. The United States government requested Goddard study the immigrants coming in through Ellis Island. He found that 80% of them were feeble-minded. This and his book The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness have been largely discredited. In his book he studied the family of one of the patients at Vineland and found that a majority of her predecessors had traits of those with mental handicaps and delinquency. Not only did he overlook many factors such as malnutrition, he falsified a majority of his information. He even altered photos to make the family members look more menacing. By the time this was found out, the book had already made its mark, furthering the popularity of compulsory sterilization in the United States. As I mentioned in my DeJarnette post, this movement inevitably lead to the sterilization of not only the mentally handicapped, but the poor, epileptic, deaf, blind, physically deformed, and criminal–most of which were black or Native American. Many of the students at the Training School were sterilized.
A quote from The Kallikak Family about the Training School:
“The colony offers a cheap, safe and happy home for these innocents, where they will be kept from pauperism, crime and disease, and from burdening society with their numerous defective offspring […] The clearing of land offered an outlet for the destructive tendencies of the boys, which are very marked when they are closely confined at school and in institutions or are permitted to roam the streets. Instead of breaking windows, stealing and destroying property, or setting fire to haystacks and buildings, these boys are happy to cut down bushes, pull up stumps and bum the brush heaps. What boy ever lived who is not willing to work all day to gather material for a bonfire?”
All printed 18 x 24″.
Every building had an open window or door that I could have used to gain entrance. I didn’t, of course–one building had obvious mold, one had floors completely caved in under the weight of what seemed to be many stoves and refrigerators.
But even worse was the room with children’s drawings still hanging on the wall. Another had baby cribs and cots…
Thanks for reading! <3
This is a continuation of this post.
The second location I photographed was on the grounds of the former DeJarnette Sanitarium, the children’s ward of the Western Lunatic Asylum in Staunton, VA. Admittedly, I do not know the exact purpose of this building. I made the mistake of researching DeJarnette before going and so was scared that I fled after less than an hour there. It isn’t even fenced in, unlike the main grounds of the old hospital, though it is boarded up and covered with asbestos warnings. I could have ventured inside via an open window but, uh, I decided against it.
Western Lunatic Asylum opened in July 1828. Lush gardens and fountains provided a peaceful healing atmosphere for the patients there in its early years. This model of mental health care was completely gone by the middle of the century. Overcrowding led to patients being crammed in rooms similar to solitary confinement chambers in prisons. Administrators used handcuffs, physical coercion and straight jackets to subdue patients. In 1924 the Eugenical Sterilization Act and Racial Integrity Act (yes, it was seriously called that) passed in Virginia, which lead to the involuntary sterilization of anyone declared “undesirable,” including the “syphilitic, epileptic, imbeciles, drunkards, promiscuous, and the poor.” Due to the Racial Integrity Act the majority of those sterilized were black, Native American, or just “one drop” of either. It also “cured” people of sexual traits like masturbation. Some sterilizations were done during other medical procedures (like standard procedures…and electroshock therapy or lobotomy) without the patient’s knowledge. Similar laws were passed in 33 states overall. Public opinion about compulsory sterilization changed during World War II because of its similarity to Nazi genocidal programs. Before it became illegal (state by state) in and around the 1950’s , about 65,000 people were sterilized, though estimates are iffy at best.
Enter onto the scene Joseph DeJarnette, whose testimony lead to the Sterilization Act to be declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1927. He was the director of Western State between 1905 and 1943. I could go on about this hideous pile of human scum for quite awhile. Instead I will leave you with his poem, Mendel’s Law: A Plea for a Better Race of Men.
Oh, why are you men so foolish —
You breeders who breed our men
Let the fools, the weaklings and crazy
Keep breeding and breeding again?
The criminal, deformed, and the misfit,
Dependent, diseased, and the rest —
As we breed the human family
The worst is as good as the best.
Go to the house of some farmer,
Look through his barns and sheds,
Look at his horses and cattle,
Even his hogs are thorough breds;
Then look at his stamp on his children,
Low browed with the monkey jaw,
Ape handed, and silly, and foolish —
Bred true to Mendel’s law.
Go to some homes in the village,
Look at the garden beds,
The cabbage, the lettuce and turnips,
Even the beets are thoroughbreds;
Then look at the many children
With hands like the monkey’s paw,
Bowlegged, flat headed, and foolish —
Bred true to Mendel’s law.
This is the law of Mendel,
And often he makes it plain,
Defectives will breed defectives
And the insane breed insane.
Oh, why do we allow these people
To breed back to the monkey’s nest,
To increase our country’s burdens
When we should only breed the best?
Oh, you wise men take up the burden,
And make this you loudest creed,
Sterilize the misfits promptly —
All not fit to breed!
Then our race will be strengthened and bettered,
And our men and our women be blest,
Not apish, repulsive and foolish,
For the best will breed the best.
All printed 18 x 24″.
To be continued!
P.S. I hope the colors look good. My monitor is broken and the external screen I’m using doesn’t have the same color calibration! Woe is me!
Hello internet. Long time no see, dear one.
This past semester I enrolled in Photography 201, a portfolio class in which students chose a single project to work on all semester. The variety of topics chosen by my classmates was amazing! One woman bought a ball jointed doll. Before she received it she talked about how odd the ball jointed doll community was. People take pictures with each other, write stories about their doll, even dedicate blogs written from the doll’s perspective. They treated them as people, basically. By the very next week, she had named her own doll and had switched from using “it” to “her” herself! She quickly got caught up in the personality of the amazingly life-like doll. Another man made beautiful portraits of a naked, pregnant woman doing yoga. Another, a series of toy cars and figures made to look life-sized just by using perspective. My favorite project was a series of breathtaking landscapes printed using a double printing method. They were so full of energy and depth!
My project is called “America’s Past Lives.” I explored the physical remains of eras and ideologies of the past. What once was a hospital, a factory, or a school is suddenly, completely abandoned. These structures have one of three fates: decay, reclamation, or destruction. I chose to focus on photographing those that were in decay this semester. And first the images are textural, interesting, and even hauntingly beautiful. Learning about the history of each location sheds an entirely different light on the photograph.
(And hopefully some meaning, too.)
The first building is the remains of the Bethlehem Steel Mill. After its founding in 1857, it became one of the most important, if not the most important steel mill in America. It supplied the steel used to build the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Hoover Dam, among many other important railways and structures in America. After a few decades of poor money management and outsourcing, Bethlehem Steel ceased operations in 1995. It survived the Civil War, the Carnegie monopolization of the steel industry, and two World Wars, but in the end its machinery was left to rust alongside American industry.
All printed 18 x 24 in.
After being saved by the Smithsonian Institution, the site was renamed Bethlehem Works…and went bankrupt in 2001. It was bought in 2007 and is being converted into an arts and music venue, SteelStacks. The neighboring facility is a casino built where the plant once stood. Iron-ically enough, they had a hard time finding enough steel to build the casino. A majority of the plant, including the blast furnaces, were left alone and are still being slowly reclaimed by weeds and rust.
I never thought I would consider decaying industrial equipment to be beautiful, but this majestic site proved me wrong. I loved brilliant clash of the shining new steel of the chain link fence against the ruins (as much as I wanted to climb them to get better pictures of the interior).
To be continued!
Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.
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