Pennhurst State School
The first thing to note about being inside a derelict Pennhurst State School building is the silence. Despite a whipping wind outside, the very interior of the two buildings I photographed were thickly quiet, punctuated only by the clicks of distant cameras. It almost felt a little sacrilegious to break the atmosphere, and it was even stranger when a noise surfaced that didn't sound like another explorer.
Thanks (again) to Matt at Abandoned America, I was able to book some time in two of the many Pennhurst buildings to photograph with permission from the property owner. Asylums are often the most interesting of abandoned locales to shoot, mostly because it's so intriguing to see the conflicting surroundings. Firstly, as with most century-old mental hospitals, a lot of the furniture was designed to force patients into submission via straps and (now controversial) therapies. On the other hand, the occasional painting or picture on the wall is an almost comically feeble attempt to comfort the unwell.
Without spanning into a history lesson, Pennhurst quickly devolved into a really shitty place to be, like most mental hospitals over the course of the last century. Overcrowding and understaffing were rampant, and the staff that were there seemed to be mostly incompetent or, worse, malevolent. It finally took a few of the facility's doctors to help close the hospital once and for all in the 1980's. So decrepit were the conditions at Pennhurst that in 1968, a damning documentary called Suffer the Little Children was released which documented the goings-on at the hospital. It was a spark to the fire that would spell the end of traditional institutionalization and spawn a massive overhaul of civil rights for the mentally ill. Watch the documentary at your own risk.
I felt a little less successful with my shots from Pennhurst than I did with Scranton Lace Company, in that many of my ideas backfired or just didn't feel right when I edited them. Still, I think I can tack a few into my portfolio. I employed a combination of lightpainting, long exposure, HDR, and single shots on this one. Like anything, though, shooting Pennhurst was a learning experience. Armed with a better knowledge of the location, perhaps a return trip in the spring is in order. Until then, though, I'll let the place settle back into the eerie, repressive silence that seems to permeate through it.
click any photo to see it larger!