By Tammy Rebello and L.F. Blanchard
Among the most often asked questions is how we got started with this project and what drives us. Tammy and I have known each other for three decades, and while there was a time where we had lost touch, busy in our own lives, we reconnected on Facebook several years ago. Tammy had been photographing for over 20 years at that time, and on a whim, based on the interest her kids took in an episode of Ghost Adventures, she grabbed her camera, and brother Josh (the muscle), and headed out to the New York location.
She loved it the moment she stepped on the grounds, and has been hooked ever since. When she returned home to Central Massachusetts, she began researching like institutions close by. While exploring she discovered a strong desire to tell the story of these places. This is when she came to me.
It didn’t take long before we had a definite direction to our project. Tammy continued photographing, every chance she could, often returning to the locations several times. In the snow, or the blistering heat she persevered with a desire to get just the right shot. We were both students at Worcester State University, and had the chance to take a few classes together. This gave us the chance to talk, and receive guidance and encouragement from the faculty.
We were recently asked if there was a point when we wanted to throw in the towel and abandon our journey. For me, it came when my mother took ill. During that time, nothing else mattered but spending time with her and the family. The irony of this is it was also the catalyst for me to see it through. While our family came together for her, we would spend hours talking, and it gave me the opportunity to bounce ideas off those I trusted most. After a period of mourning my mother, Tammy and I were ready to move forward and haven’t looked back.
We quickly discovered how well we worked together. Tammy was in control of everything photographic and I, everything written, although we are constantly bouncing ideas off one another. We talk with one another daily, even now that the first book is finished and out for the world to see. While we don’t always agree, we try to maintain our respect for one another. Our friendship is most important, even more than the books. But I feel that’s what makes it work.
We approached this project from different angles. Tammy loved the architecture, the style of the buildings and the artistry of the physical structure set against the rubble left behind. She recently told me how much it saddens her to see these places being torn down. If perhaps they had taken care of these buildings instead of letting them rot, they could have been saved for future generations to see how beautiful they truly are.
I on the other hand come at it from the psychological perspective. I dug in to the history of these locations. I wanted to know for what purpose they were built; what they became; and what led to their demise. I explored the story as a whole, with the perspective of the state, the institution and administrators, employees, patients and their loved ones. The story of how the mental health field in Massachusetts, and in the United States, changed over the past century, and why. Tammy and I spoke with dozens of people, all with a unique impression of how the most horrific and unimaginable, alongside the most wonderful, shaped the mental health field today and will continue to as it evolves.
Our goal has always been to tell the story; to let you in, behind the scenes. Perhaps, in our own way, start to change the stigma associated with mental illness. While we have come so far in this field, we still have a battle ahead. For those working to better the lives of others; who teach the tools to a more peaceful state of mind, I commend you. But to those who struggle, you are not alone. Both Tammy and I found the courage to step into the light, and you can too.