Jon Crispins’ Willard Suitcase Project

Photographer Jon Crispin first saw the abandoned Willard Asylum in the early ‘80s. Abandoned and boarded up, it appealed to his lifelong compulsion for “entering places where I shouldn’t have been.”

This compulsion led to a two-year project funded by the New York State Council for Arts to photograph 19th Century New York State Asylums: Silent Voices.

Jon’s relationship with Willard began in earnest when he visited an exhibition in the New York State Museum in the early 2000s. The Asylum had been converted to a prison facility and, during the renovation, roughly 400 suitcases, belonging to patients, were discovered, spanning the 20s-60s. The cases and their contents were meticulously cataloged and recorded by the museum.

Jon was granted access to photograph the cases, launched a Kickstarter Campaign and raised close to $20,000 to cover his expenses.

The project and the resulting images have created a stir; garnering attention in the media and inclusion in an upcoming exhibit at San Francisco’s Exploratorium* that opens April 17.

The images are delicate and reverential, never appearing to be exploitive, only respectful.

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