Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Images Evoking Torment

Broken Promises - Image c Lynda Lehmann

In the decay of our cultural institutions we find images that evoke the core of human suffering. Privation, need, fear, despair, insanity, and hopelessness. For me, the lesson in viewing such places is that by seeing scenes that can be described as either spiritually or physically ugly, we see the brighter things. Paradox is so deeply built into the human experience that by its very nature, it teaches us to look at things from a wider perspective. "Holistically," as one of my revered Art Education professors at Penn State University used to say.

Here are a few photos from the grounds of Kings Park Psychiatric Center, that I shot last week. The old state hospital is on what are now the grounds of Nissequogue River State Park in Suffolk County. You can wander the grounds but the buildings, for understandable reasons, are off-limits. Indeed they are crumbling, and would be dangerous to approach. It seems to me that New York State would do well to either reclaim these building for future generations, or destroy them. They're an attractive haven for wayward teenagers, I'm sure. And that in itself is dangerous. Perhaps they could be used to make a summer day camp, or sold to artists to renovate? Or just razed to increase the usable space of the existing park?

Eternal Struggle - Image c Lynda Lehmann

I enjoy walking there because ghosts of the past seem to whisper on the stale wind coming out of the dark windows. I enjoy the place visually, as a photographer. And as a bit of local history. But in hard economic times in particular, I would think the space, if not the buildings themselves, could be reclaimed for public use of some sort.

Best Forgotten - Image c Lynda Lehmann

A Voice from the Shadows - Image c Lynda Lehmann

Forbidden - Image c Lynda Lehmann

For me these structures evoke all the pain and torment of mental illness, for those who can't function in society and have so much behavioral difficulty that they need to be institutionalized. Sadly, mental health services have been cut drastically in the last three decades, and many people cannot get the care or guidance that they need.

Where Shadows Fall - Image c Lynda Lehmann

I've sometimes heard people say that there is beauty in ugliness. My interpretation is that in the duel, yin-yang nature of things, it's the ugly stuff that informs our consciousness and makes us lean, or strive, towards the light. And towards beauty, of course.

Many ramifications of duality lend themselves to discussion: the nature of paradox itself, good versus evil, the meaning and purpose of human institutions, our perceptions of the world, etc. What do you think? Do you ponder the contradictions of life? Are you comfortable with perceiving paradox? Or do you lean more towards absolutes--the black and white polarities--instead of standing with uncertainty in the "gray zone"?

All images and text c Lynda Lehmann. If you would like to view more of my art or make a purchase, please visit Lynda Lehmann Painting and Photography or my gallery at Imagekind, where you can choose from several sizes and paper types or buy my prints plain or matted and framed.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Add to Technorati Favorites


  1. Lynda:

    Wow, what great images, especially the top one. I love the mixture of the brick, the broken window and the branches. It all works for me.

    Happy trails.

  2. Although the atmosphere of these is rather lonely, the textures and details are fascinating. Interesting how the old, weather-worn structures in Europe that we love so much can seem so attractive and comfortable and create such a positive feeling.. yet this type of place has a wasted, forlorn mood. Probably the difference is not the architecture, but the can sense the unhappy spirits wandering among these deserted buildings, even without knowing what they were once used for. A very well done and evocative set!

  3. Spectacular photos to support your excellent prose. These are very haunting and thought provoking images that I wish I had taken. Once again we are on the same wave length. Eerie.

  4. In the course of my work-studies I got to see a few of these places when they were operating. I prefer them as they are in your photographs.

  5. So unique, beautiful yet sad, so many emotions in just one photo. Great work Lynda.

  6. Hey Lynda,

    Once again, you have managed to turn something dire into beauty! These pictures are fantastic, because you have injected your compassion into them: well done!

    Now this building is very beautiful! It is a shame that it is neglected...however, if it used to be a mental institution, I can understand why nobody bought it yet: the energies must be rather heavy.
    However, artists could turn around this situation (since artists are protected by Spirits of Light - so I heard :)...).

    Here in Portugal, we do not have institutions for the mentally ill. We have two public hospitals that will only admit severe mental cases. But if one needs to be institutionalised, for some days/months only (to treat mild cases: depression, bi-polar fits, schizofrenia fits etc) there is nowhere to go *nodding*.

    "Do you ponder the contradictions of life? Are you comfortable with perceiving paradox?" - Oh yeah, all the time. But only because I have reached the conclusion that in life everything is about opposites: God created male/female, light/darkness, earth/air; water/fire; war/peace; love/hate; construction/destruction; entrance/exit etc...
    These opposites constitute the balance of life: one can't exist without the other. That being said, yeah...I understand how people can find beauty in ugliness - it's also part of life and its balance.
    I am perfectly comfortable with perceiving paradox.

    "Or do you lean more towards absolutes--the black and white polarities--instead of standing with uncertainty in the "gray zone"?" - To me there is only One Absolute; all the rest....non-absolute. Black has many shades, white has many, not even black and white are that black and white lol...


  7. Interesting point, Lynda! I see it more as a statement, although there can be beauty in composition etcetera ... A wake-up call maybe ...

  8. I am stunned, left with a haunting feeling, left with beauty, left with compassion, intrigued, loving the way nature reclaims with her roots and branches, sadden for the souls we lived here, finding myself profoundly loving these souls, finding myself loving all of humanity until I weep from it, horrified by how some mentally ill people were treated in past centuries (this century - maybe), I find myself wanting to love them all -- now and then, I am touched that the Earth/time erases all traces -- washes clean and embraces it all, loves all, again and again, humbled by how fleeting we are, how unimportant we are, how important we are, I am intrigued that I find both deep beauty and stark horror in the photos, I am intrigued that I can feel nothing and everything at the same time.

    Please excuse my stream of consciousness here, but it just plopped out of me. I was going to delete it as I realize it may not make sense, but then I decide to leave it as your great work here opened up my heart and that's what came out.

    I embrace paradox completely, in fact, I thrive on it. In the rainforest I witnessed it as a fundamental truth. And in the end I discovered that there really is no paradox. It is all part of the one organism, one being.

    Beautiful amazing Lynda, this is a phenomenal post...all of it. A very very exciting topic. And the photos should be in a gallery showing, very provocative in the absolute best of ways.

    Much love,

  9. Wow Lynda. Very powerful pictures and words. Living in NY(and probably elsewhere too) the lack of care for the mentally ill and mentally disabled is disastrous. It can be seen just about anywhere but your pictures bring it even closer. There is a poignancy to your photos and you do them great justice.

  10. I find it difficult to think dualistically--nothing is truly black or white, y'know? There are always millions of shades of gray in there.
    I loved your photos here. Such buildings always make me wonder about their histories. There are some wonderful buildings like this near Niagara Falls that I think would make LOVELY libraries, visitors' centers, etc. There are a lot of legalities involved, of course, so it's never going to happen, unfortunately.

  11. Gorgeous, haunting images, Lynda. And to me, there are many shades of grey and very little black or white. Sometimes these institutions acted as prisons. Sometimes as sanctuaries If the buildings were razed we'd lose the history, but they are dangerous...and so it goes.

  12. Lynda,
    These are a fantastic set of images that evoke many mixed emotions. You have captured the feel of isolation, deterioration, and abandonment perfectly.

    However, at the same time I am drawn to seek out every little crevice and in an odd way also enjoy the essence of the original architecture.

    This is an incredible set of images that certainly does make one stop, ponder, and most importantly to me, feel!

    Great work!

  13. Great images, Lynda, that stir the heart and thoughts. I love old buildings, their history, their textures. Would we imagine the same loneliness if you'd said they had served as canning factories?
    I'd hate to see them razed. Their stories and lessons might then be lost.

  14. what a wonderful post Lynda!!
    the images are brilliant ...haunting ....chilling...and thought provoking....
    we have the same problems with care of the mentally ill here and I hope that our new governments work towards improving the conditions for a growing number of our and in the US too ...
    I'll have to go and put a jumper on now as I have goosebumps ;)....wonderful images and insights Lynda :))

  15. Swubird - Thanks for coming by. The top one is my favorite, too. :)

  16. MARK - You bring up a good point. Just why is it that we perceive some ruins to be beautiful, and other as forlorn, when they may be in similar states of decay or disrepair?

    I think a lot of it must have to do with the lighting, and the kind of destruction that is evident.

    For instance, the ruins at Angkor Wat (which I have seen only in photos but not in person) have to me, a more romantic and less desolate feel. It's more of a nature-taking-over feeling than a feeling of abandonment, loneliness, and slow decay.

    It's always amazing to me, how many shades of emotion can be piqued by inanimate objects. As if they have "souls" that communicate to our souls.

    Okay, so maybe "essence" is a better word for that... :)

  17. MARGARET - I think we are on the same wave-length a lot!

    I think you would love seeing these buildings. I have a lot more shots from that day, to work up, which I'd like to show you if I can get around to it!

    "Excellent prose"? Why, thank you! I appreciate your compliment very much.

    I saw a seaweed waving in the seawater the other day, so part of it was in focus and part of it was blurred by the moving water flowing over it. And it reminded me of the beautiful piece you had in your last post, muted and soft but so tactile.

  18. DAVE - I too, prefer them as nostalgic and slightly romanticized photos. I would not want to witness the horror of such institutions, at their worst or even at their very best. We still have so much to learn about human nature and mental health.

  19. SYLVIA - Yes, so many emotions come across in these places. It's almost as if the emotions of the occupants still fill the place. And who knows, maybe they do.

    I hope all is well with you, dear Sylvia, and I'll be over to visit you soon. :)

  20. MAX - I wonder how, with all our affluence, we can purport to be human when we can't help those people with horrifying mental problems. People are not born with equal capacity or equal genes, and we SHOULD have compassion for their intense suffering. Maybe we don't want to look at it very much, because of how much it scares us.

    I'm comfortable with the paradoxical nature of things, too. I'm quite used to it. And knowing you, I would anticipate that you are comfortable with it, as well.

    You're such a thinking person, and you would not likely think in absolutes. Yet I know people who do. They are so reactive, I don't know how they live with themselves. It must be tiring, to be defending absolute positions all the time.

    I agree with your last statement, as well. All hues and tones from black to white are incremental in the vast circle of life.

    Have a great weekend, Max! xxxx

  21. ANNE - I do see a strange beauty in the ugliness, but the decaying aspect of it calls for thought.

    If you were to get close to these buildings, you would see how whole walls of brick are pulling away from the structure and ready to fall. It's frightening. I wouldn't get too close, for fear of the whole thing letting go.

  22. wow, are the buildings all deserted and no one is taking care of them?

  23. ROBIN - I'm happy you didn't delete your words. They're heartfelt and read like a prayer. And they're paradoxical, even as you comment on paradox.

    I know what you mean. I think this is the point where words fail us: when all the meanings and contradictions form ONE marvelous beautiful and bitter WHOLE, and our consciousness BECOMES the universe.



  24. tangled stitch - Yes, you would think that in an affluent society with the ability for social organization of all kinds, and for runaway Capitalist structures, we could build adequate homes and treatment center for the mentally ill. No justice there.... :(

    And some people own seven castles and three yachts. It's not fair or right; it's morally bankrupt.

  25. LANA - That's my point, that there are so many shades of gray. I just can't get how some people reduce everything in life to "I love it" or "I hate it." It seems their minds are attracted to polarities like magnets.

    I don't think we artists and writers and photographers are capable of thinking that way. Thank goodness.

    I've never been to Niagara Falls. But everywhere I go, I look for interesting old infrastructure. And of course, nature's beauty. :)

  26. CONDA - I would hate to lose the history and indeed, the "aesthetics of decay." It's a dilemma, economically, morally, and legally.

    But I think our priority should be to take care of those who can't take care of themselves, and we should do what's necessary to insure that.

  27. JACKIE - It's important to feel, so if my images evoke feeling, I'm gratified by that. I think that's one of the roles of art: to make us stop in our tracks for a moment, arrest our attention, and cause us to think and feel.

    We become so lost and entrenched in our habits and daily routines. Art informs us, just as much or maybe more than, talking heads and screaming headlines.

    I hope you've had a good week, Jackie. xxxx

  28. KATHY - That's a great question. I don't know how much of their visual impact comes from knowing their context.

    Yet even commercial buildings whose past purpose is known, can evoke feelings of pathos. I think the poignancy lies within us, and certain structures in reality spur poignant feelings. Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, feelings are in the heart of the beholder.

    Knowing that people were treated here for mental illness, in this vast, impersonal, institutional complex, only adds to our feelings about it.

  29. KIM - I guess these are universal problems. The recent rash of mass-shootings in the US illustrates how desperately mental health services are needed, in good OR bad economic times.

    Let's count our blessings, right?

    PS - Kim, what is a "jumper"? In the U.S., we used that word (years and years ago) to mean a dress that pulls over the head. ;)

  30. KRIZ - They are slowly crumbling, and probably one blast of wind away from losing whole walls.

    They're artistically interesting but dangerous to go near.

  31. This was lovely. Beautiful and well described.

  32. MIDDLE DITCH - Thank you and thanks for visiting my blog!

  33. Fantastic photos Lynda!
    Those walls and windows could no doubt tell many haunting and tragic stories - yet perhaps in there somewhere was healing too.
    Extremely evocative images.

  34. Seems every abandon mental institution carries with is a sort of looming shadow ... the unseen variety. There was one I used to pass that gave me the chills driving by, even if I did not look at it.

    Great photos - they pack a punch, and emit emotion. Well done!!! This was a super post ;-)

  35. I love the images. I am markedly clear on certain things, and then on some I am definitely in the gray area, I can't decide, its hard to lean onto either side as just as I am about to do so I put myself in the shoes of the other side and there I am at Square 1.

  36. JANICE - I hope and trust that some healing happened there. Still, those with mental illness suffer so greatly even WITH good treatment. And vast, impersonal institutional settings such as this, could bring out the insecurity in anyone.

  37. SPEEDY - Thank you so much for visiting and for your comments on my post. The setting was/is powerful, and my camera could not help but capture some of it.

  38. SSQuo - I think I'm a lot like you in that way. I find that I have to look at things from both sides, or from as many sides as can be articulated. Which is maybe good for fairness, but bad for decision-making--at those time when one has to commit to an either-or solution.

    I appreciate your honesty!

  39. They certainly evoke many feelings, and yes, you have captured the spirits that must still be confined within the walls. I agree, I think it is time to give them the rest they deserve, and use this space for life. I am sure they would all agree.

  40. KATHY - Life is for the living, or so they say. While I don't relish the idea of having these historic and artistically evocative buildings torn down, I would like to hear the pros and cons of doing just that, from the "pros" who could weigh costs, environmental impact, etc., and project new uses for the land/space.

  41. Thank you so much!

    I love these pictures; love the beauty of decay and the eery feel of the pictures.


I try to respond to comments whenever I can. I ALWAYS appreciate your visits and friendship, and I will reciprocate with visits to your site. Thanks for sharing parts of your blogging journey with me. I value each and every one of you.

NOTE: Please, no more memes, schemes, or awards. They're fun and they may help us to know each other better, but I'd rather spend the time reading your posts and having you READ mine!

Happy blogging!

Buy My Art!

My most popular images for sale at Shutterstock:

Comical and Endearing Bird Ritual....