Mental institutions were starting to be built in the late 19th century. Madness was seen in anyone who quite clearly differed from the social norms of the time. Instead of just letting them be, it was said that specific health institutions should be organized in order to cure people with mental health issues. As you might have seen in the movie “Shutter Island”, some of these hospitals didn’t have clean techniques (electro shots, strong medicine) and the patients were merely regarded as strange. Nowadays, techniques have evolved and therefore, a few of these older institutions have been shut down. Also, individuals encountering such issues aren’t necessarily excluded from the rest of us. Today, I will talk to you about 2 artists that were fascinated by the environment of asylums and the atmosphere they convey.
Cristopher Payne focusing on abandoned asylums.
What is interesting with Christopher Payne’s work is how he shows the curing aspect of Asylums. We can find a contrast between the gloomy abandoned buildings and the fragility and beauty of an environment that has as an aim to help people get better. By his project, we can also see that asylums are less and less considered nowadays. Is this because we convey less importance to helping those that are mentally sick or is it because we believe it is just another thing that can be cured thanks to medication? The National Institute of Mental Health has established that more than 26 per cent of Americans over the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental disorder nowadays.
Most of his photos from this project show objects that are left behind. Books, suitcases, clothing, show that these institutions wanted to make the patient feel at home and comfortable enough to stay. These elements that were left behind also show the presence of patients, without them being there. There is a glimpse of their lifestyle, but as if they were phantoms. Hence, Payne creates a haunting atmosphere to his photos. We can clearly imagine the individuals walking around these rooms.
Roger Ballen and his portraits of mental illness.
Roger Ballen has another focus. He likes to portray people who differ from the “norm”. He captures them in their element, with their little habits of passions that sometimes appear to be intriguing.
It isn’t because you are different that you should be excluded from society. He really finds it interesting to observe the differences and it might be enriching. Everything isn’t easy in the lives of these people but they try as hard as possible to cope with the issues they grew up with.
Roger Ballen also collaborated with Die Antwoord. If you haven’t heard of them, they are an atypical duo from South Africa. They are often misunderstood du to their strange style and adherence to the abnormal. The photographer captures quite well the ideals of the musicians and their magical differences. Yes, they are covered in dirt, have many tattoos and strange haircuts but why does everything have to be square and neat?