Back from the dead. Great song by a great band. The Adverts. It’s on the 1978 RCA Records 45″ release with Television’s Over on the flipside. Yes, I own it. Yes, I’m smug about it. They were a greatly understated British punk band, not so much in regard to the impact they had or their unmistakable sound, but by way of their lack of mention in the Punk Rock history books, so to speak. Gaye Advert, the band’s bassist, wife of lead singer, TV Smith, and the woman who’s staked some tattoo real estate on my left arm, was Joan Jett’s direct style influence from across the pond. They met in 1976 when The Runaways were touring in England. Legendary punk rock photo diarist, Roberta Bayley, snapped this shot of them in ’77. Thank the universe for badass rock ‘n roll women. And here’s a link to the song of the hour Back From The Dead
Now, as far as me coming back from the dead…let me tell you a story. A photographer friend and I recently shot the abandoned Letchworth Psychiatric Facility in Rockland County, NY. Left to be reclaimed by nature for quite some time now, the buildings (and there are over a dozen) still hold the relics and the ghosts of its past quite literally. The door was simply shut. Funding ended. The facility closed. No furniture was removed. Patient records stayed intact, as well as what I would believe to be some of the patients themselves. Supper trays remain in the dining room. Prayers books beg for a worshipper’s breath in the synagogue. Letchworth started with good intentions but like many similar operations, its demise imbues a dishonorable mention among many critics and humanitarian advocates.
Stephen and I stood in the courtyard of what we didn’t know was the main hospital of the village. The above photo shows the view looking out into that courtyard. Before entering, I was shooting an old schoolhouse desk and chair that sat aloofly in the overgrown brush. We both heard a buzzing sound. We both looked around. “Is that you? Are you fucking with me?” I asked him. He moved slightly and the buzzing switched tone and rhythm. “Are you standing on a nest of some kind?” I asked. We stared at each other absently and without answers. Finally, I realized it was coming from me. From my camera that I was holding. From my camera that has never made a sound like that since I’ve owned it. I turned it off, legitimately freaked out, and then we went inside because we’re apparently masochists.
We crept around the premises for another thirty minutes or so taking in the morid graffiti and beauty of peeling paint. Truly, I believe there must have been some bright and motivational coloring as part of the fabric of recovery at Letchworth, because the decomposing chippings that lay about are a rainbowed spectrum of pastel wonderment.
The graffiti adds a modern-day connection to the site’s macabre interior. Most of it is very literal. It imparts upon the already degraded environment the feeling that people in real pain continue to wander these halls today. “Terrible Thoughts.” “Don’t Do Heroin.” “My Father Fucks Me.” “Dead Inside.” These were all words I found inside the asylum walls; a cry for help from those who feel there may be no other place to make their voices heard.
After parting ways with Stephen, I did some more research on the facility. As it were, when my camera was making those indiscernible static noises, he and I were standing mere feet from the underground morgue of the hospital. I called a woman I had met the night before in Nyack. “Wanna go to the morgue with me in the morning before I head upstate?” I can pick ’em. “Yes!” And they can pick me…
She and I went back to the hospital the next morning and descended the stairs in search of the morgue. To say that it was terrifying may be an understatement. Gripping. Paralyzing. Anxiety-inducing. Cold. So very, Fucking cold. Those are all adequate descriptions of what it’s like. I saw a dentist office with toppled chair and scattered tools. I found a stretcher. An examining table. I found more words on the walls about death and utter despair. Probing tools. Prodding tools. Next six rooms…more beds…more tools…more tables…no morgue. When I found medical records detailing a suicide by hanging I was done. Keep in mind, all of this was observed by the light of an iPhone flashlight. We couldn’t see more than five feet in front of us if that. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, very few are equipped to calmly deal in that setting.
Urbex photo mission at its finest. Between skating pools and shooting urbex, much of my time is spent in decaying environments. I prefer it. It’s humbling. Think about that for a moment. Just think about the why. I’m not going to explain it here. Enjoy more photos from the trip here and on my Stiv photo and Stivlives pages. If you want a print of anything you see on my pages just send me a message!
Be well and keep exploring!