Asylum by Christopher Payne is a photographic essay “Inside the closed world of state mental hospitals” in America. It consists of an essay by Oliver Sacks (author of The man who mistook his wife for a hat) and an overview of seventy American mental hospital buildings by the photographer Christopher Payne.
Then you are on your own, nothing but you and these incredibly powerful images.
From the 1950’s, the treatment of mental illness in America changed. It went from patients living in independent, self-sufficient communities housed in spectacular purpose-built buildings, to a greater dependence on drug treatments and the integration of mentally ill patients into their communities.
This book is about those buildings. Unused, seemingly hastily abandoned and falling into a state of disrepair, you find yourself sucked through their impressive front foors and down their long sad corridors. Yet Payne claims: “I found no ghosts inhabiting the hallways” and one of the former patients Anna Agnew says of these places:
“They were places where one could be both mad and safe.”
Which brings me to my only quibble: the cover. Have a look at this book: of all the images at his disposal, do you think this is the best cover that the author could have chosen?