By Jessica Manley I Photos by Jon Crispin

The Project:

All but forgotten, the precious mementos of psychiatric patients housed at the Willard Asylum in Upstate New York would have been forever lost if not for the efforts of photographer Jon Crispin. Until it closed in 1995, the Willard Asylum housed patients with severe chronic mental illness; because of the severity of their conditions few ever left the facility, leaving behind suitcases, personal items, journals, and other mementos. The intimate stories told by these everyday items have now been brought to light through Jon Crispin’s camera in his project The Willard Asylum Suitcases.

Crispin first went to Willard in the 1980s when the New York State Council on the Arts funded his project of photographing a few insane asylums. He maintained a close connection with people at the state Office of Mental Health and the New York State Museum. When the nearly four hundred suitcases were discovered, Crispin was given access to them and thus began his photographic journey to carefully document their contents.

The Plan:

Crispin decided to shoot not only the objects inside the suitcases but the luggage themselves. Crispin found beauty in the way they had been wrapped in archival paper by the museum in an effort to preserve them, and incorporated photographs of the swaddled luggage as well as their contents in order to give a complete story. This part of the project was important for Crispin because he wanted to show the care that was taken in handling the possessions of the patients. “These are not just things but parts of people’s lives,” Crispin said. Crispin goes to the NY State Museum an average of once a week to shoot— there are 400 suitcases and he hopes to photograph all of them.. He began his project about one year ago in March 2011 and hopes to finish it this fall.

The Kickstarter campaign:

Crispin came across an article in The New York Times about Kickstarter and decided to use the fundraising site to help finance his project. He shot a video to help promote it and reach out to potential backers. His original monetary goal was $8,000; by the end of the campaign he had exceeded his goal by $10,000. In just six week the Kickstarter community had donated more than $18,000 to Crispin’s project, a feat that speaks volumes about the fundraising site.  Such a strong public reaction inspired Crispin to move forward with this remarkable project. Upon completion of the shoot, Crispin plans to showcase his photographs in several museums and publish a book of the images.

Kickstarter Project:

The Willard Asylum Suitcases

Founder: Jon Crispin, Massachusetts-based freelance photographer

Original Goal: $8,000

Total amount raised: $18,114

Number of Backers: 674

Most Popular Pledge Bracket: Pledges of $10 or more (336 backers)

Backer Incentives: As rewards to backers of his project Crispin offered them quality archival photographs based on amount of money donated. Prints ranging from 5” to 17”.

Jon Crispin: