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Book review: Asylum

November 21, 2009 1 comment

This weekend I got the book Asylum: Inside the Clossed World of State Mental Hospitals by Christopher Payne. I saw a recommendation on Kitzune Noir a few weeks back and I just knew I must have it.

Asylum is a photography album of the inside and outside of many mental hospitals across the United States. The forward, written by neurologist Oliver Sacks, is an interesting review of the entire concept – how it came to be at the beginning of the 18th century and it’s decline after the 1950s. He wrote about the Kirkbride Plan – a special design of the layout of institutes that was meant to promote comfort for patients, but eventually becoming too expensive to maintain. He also discusses how mental hospitals become a place of confinement, rather than a haven.

Payne’s photographs are simply amazing. They show in great detail the outside of hospitals and the inside of wards; untended forgotten gardens and dismal corridors with paint peeling off the walls. Looking at all the abandoned corridors and rooms makes you imagine them busy with strange patients wandering around and doctors tending them. I try to picture people living and working in such a morally questionable environment.

It’s a fascinating book. Browsing it fills me with inspiration and curiosity. I wish there was more stuff to read on this subject, but I guess that’s what Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization is for.

Check out the book’s website: www.asylumbook.com.