I’m not sure why I went back to the old Pennhurst Hospital which is often referred to as the “Shame of Pennsylvania.” The hospital for “feeble-minded children” (from its original name) was built in 1908 and had a long history of being overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed which lead to abuse and neglect of the young residents until it was closed in the 1980’s.
On my first trip to Pennhurst I was searching for the ghosts, remnants of those who were forced to live here. Walking through and recording a place with such a tragic history proved to be a very emotional experience for me. The current owners of the property are capitalizing on its history by staging “Haunted Asylum” events. While this doesn’t do much to dignify the many souls who were unfortunate enough to inhabit this place, it does provide a way to generate much needed income to preserve the buildings. Maybe because of this, I decided to look at Pennhurst as a vehicle to create art as a small way to honor those who were here as patients.
Whether it is a beautiful landscape or the inside of a dilapidated building, the quality of the light is extremely important. It can have more impact on the finished images and the resulting story those images tell than anything else.
Maybe coming back here to look at these solemn buildings with an artistic eye may do a little bit to heal what happened here. Maybe it will give some recognition to the children and adults who lived here as patients. These people at Pennhurst were victims of a system that didn’t have the time, money or inclination to properly care for them. It’s hard not to feel the sadness that pervades this place.