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.

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