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The photographic art of insane aylums

Posted by Alex Beam  April 2, 2010 12:34 PM

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For better or worse, some people have a fascination with mental hospitals, most often with the vast, factory-style state hospitals -- the notorious "snake pits" -- of the 19th and early 20th centuries. About a decade ago, the artist Anna Schuleit staged a mind-blowing (sorry...) musical event inside the decommissioned Northampton State Hospital.
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The long-shuttered Danvers State Hospital on the North Shore has attracted more than its share of attention, first in the spooky fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, and more recently in Brad Anderson's psychiatric horror film, ''Session 9:"

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Photos courtesy MIT Press

MIT Press has published a gorgeous, coffee-table book, "Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals," featuring the photography of Christopher Payne. (Those are his pictures above.) "One must not be too romantic about madness, or the madhouses in which the insane were commited," Oliver Sacks writes in his introductory essay. "There is ... an immeasurably deep sadness about mental illness, a sadness that is reflected in the often grandiose but melancholy architecture of the old state hospitals."

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