Frank Pictures Gallery presents Lisa Rinzler’s THE GRASS IS GREEN, an exhibition of photographs of the rediscovered ephemera of generations of mental patients from the abandoned Willard Psychiatric Center in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. This is award-winning cinematographer Rinzler’s second show for gallerist Laurie Frank. Her exhibition of platinum Palladium prints premiered at Frank’s Still/Moving in 1999. The 14 large format chromogenic images in her latest exhibition, printed on sheets of glass, are culled from hundreds shot by Rinzler of the 427 suitcases, trunks, crates and bundles recovered after Willard closed in 1995 that belonged to patients who had spent decades in this vast state mental institution. In them were the remnants of lives left behind when their owners entered the locked gates, a hovering presence of hundreds of souls or spirits attached to the many people who had handled and worn the items in those bags before they were packed, who had read the books, written in the diaries, and looked into the mirrors they contained. Through Rinzler’s lens these forgotten souls, many incarcerated mistakenly for their entire lives, managed to move from being hidden in the crevices of an institution to being in a room of their own.
In 1998, Craig Williams, then curator of the New York State Museum, realized that he had stumbled across a dream of a treasure. Collaborating with Darby Penney, a director with the NY State office of Mental health; Peter Stastny, a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker who was then an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine; and Rinzler, as photographer; a major exhibit at the New York State Museum was mounted in 2004, attended by over 600,000 visitors; a website,www.suitcaseexhibit.org; a traveling exhibit; and, ultimately, a book, “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic” (Bellevue Literary Press) written by Ms. Penney and Dr. Stastny with photographs by Lisa Rinzler, were all created around this collection.
Lisa Rinzler first studied painting at the Pratt Institute and then film at New York University. She has been the Director of Photography for dozens of feature films and documentaries including Ed Harris’ Pollock (Vision Award, Women in Film Crystal Awards, 2000; Golden Frog nomination, Camerimage, 2000), the Hughes Brothers Menace II Society ( winner 1994 Independent Spirit Award for cinematography) and Dead Presidents, Three Seasons (Cinematography Award, Sundance Film Festival, 1999, Independent Spirit Award, best cinematography, 2000) and Wim Wenders’ documentary,The Soul Of A Man (2004 Emmy for Cinematagraphy). She co-directed and produced (with Peter Stasny) In The House, three autobiographical stories written and performed by teenager’s in a children’s psychiatric hospital (winner Golden Spire, San Francisco Film Festival) and Coney Island, Brooklyn and Death by Unnatural Causes (with Karen Bellone). She was a subject of two documentaries, Women Behind The Camera and Visions of Light.
By Jim McKinniss