As an artist and a photographer I have always been fascinated with abandoned buildings. Early work of mine often included barns and homes left abandoned in rural parts of Pennsylvania. While attending the Tyler School of Fine Arts near Philadelphia I was introduced to an abandoned hospital know locally as Byberry.
These buildings, and others like them, hold particular visual fascination for me. The textures and dilapidation create an opportunity to hold beauty in the current state of destruction. Combined with the particular history of what must have taken place within these walls, this provides a dialogue with the viewers of these images which can conjure both visual intrigue and the horror of the plight of early 20th century rehabilitation practices.
The Asylum, which was built around 1906, was officially known as the PhiladelphiaÂ Hospital for Mental Diseases and consisted of more than 50 buildings. The photographs in this portfolio consist of a selection of my images made in the East Buildings. The East Buildings were the original structures of the hospital. The Byberry Hospital buildings were surrounded by nearly 100 acres of farmland and the hospital was a completely self-sufficient community that supplied and consumed its own food. All meat was prepared by patients in the butcher shop and the grounds were farmed by a team of working patients. The property also housed a power plant and several other facilities which allowed the hospital to support itself.
At the time that these images were taken the West Buildings, built between 1924 and 1955, were still in operation. The hospital housed nearly 6500 patients when completed. In 1991 the entire hospital was closed and abandoned following reports of patient mistreatment and financial difficulties. The east buildings were demolished in 1996 to make way for an industrial park. The City of Philadelphia contracted a company to begin demolition of the remaining buildings. Some brief work was started before a deadly amount of airborne asbestos inside the buildings was discovered.Â TheÂ city calculated removal to cost more than $15 million (not including demolition), and theÂ State decided toÂ leave the buildings aloneÂ and hired a security company to watch its grounds. The west buildings still stand and are popular among artists, photographers, and other trespassers.
For additional history and images of the PhiladelphiaÂ Hospital for Mental Diseases check out The Story of ByberryÂ