Broken Light: A Photography Collective

We are photographers living with or affected by mental illness; supporting each other one photograph at a time. Join our community, submit today!

Reflection on Willard Psychiatric Hospital

Photo taken by first-time contributor Karen L. Miller, a psychiatrist and poet who experienced a major depression about twenty years ago. During the last three years, she has researched the lives of the people who lived and worked at Willard State Hospital, which closed in 1995. She has read patient records, viewed their belongings, and interviewed former employees of the hospital. Her work, through her writing, is to give the people of Willard their voices back. Her Willard poems, along with photography by Jon Crispin of patients’ belongings, will be shown in an exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco in April.

About this photo: “This photograph is of my reflection in a mirror.  The mirror belonged to a nurse, Flora T., who was a severely depressed patient at Willard State Hospital in the early twentieth century. The photo was taken at a warehouse for the New York State Museum in Rotterdam, New York, where the Willard patients’ suitcases and belongings are stored.

I feel close to Flora. Both of us were health professionals who became depressed.  If I had lived when she did, I might have had a very different life.  I’ve also experienced confining life circumstances– nothing like institutionalization– but enough to make me feel that looking at the Willard patients and caregivers’ lives means I must look at myself as well.  This is why I was moved to take a picture of myself looking in Flora’s mirror.  We have traveled the same road. 

I feel grateful and privileged to hold what she held, to read her words.”  


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8 comments on “Reflection on Willard Psychiatric Hospital

  1. naturephotorehab
    February 16, 2013

    Your photo’s composition, concept and processing are marvelous.
    Your story, and that of Flora, are inspiring. Thank you.


  2. Carolyn Hughes
    February 16, 2013

    Your photos and statements are so powerful.


  3. seeker
    February 16, 2013

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts as professional care giver. I am travelling with you as well.


  4. Emily
    February 16, 2013



  5. luro97
    February 16, 2013

    Thank you for you images and words. This picture of you reminds me of a dear teacher I had.


  6. Syncopated Eyeball
    February 16, 2013

    What a great image. And your project sounds fascinating.


  7. Leah Givens
    February 17, 2013

    Beautiful, in idea and in execution…I can relate.


  8. albegee
    February 17, 2013

    I remember when they closed Willard, many of the residents were forced to be out on the street and were seen wandering around different communities. There were a few people I knew who worked there.


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