Meaning from Juxtaposition

A Conversation with Photographer Jon Crispin about the Willard Asylum Suitcases


  • Jon Crispin
  • Zoë Crossland Columbia University



Mental health, institutionalization, personal effects, ephemera


An interview and accompanying photographic essay around Jon Crispin's photographs of a collection of abandoned suitcases found at a now-closed psychiatric center at Willard, in upstate New York. Many held the possessions of former patients and ranged in date from the turn of the 20th century into the late 1960s. The suitcases have now been accessioned to the permanent collection of the New York State Museum in Albany, NY.

Author Biographies

  • Jon Crispin

    Jon Crispin has been working as a photographer his entire adult life. His work is divided between assignments, long-term photo documentary projects, and personal work.

  • Zoë Crossland, Columbia University

    Zoë Crossland is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Columbia University. Her research interests lie in semiotic archaeology and archaeologies of death and the body. She has written on debates around forensic archaeological evidence, on the production of the dead body through archaeological practice, and on encounters with the dead in highland Madagascar.


Dwyer, E. 1987. Homes for the Mad: Life Inside Two Nineteenth-century Asylums. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Pamuk, O. 2012. The Innocence of Objects. Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence / New York: Harry N Abrams.

Penney, D. and P. Stastny. 2008. The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from A State Hospital Attic. New York: Bellevue Literary Press.

Stewart, K. 2007. Ordinary Affects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Jon Crispin’s Willard Suitcases site

Jon Crispin’s 2011 Kickstarter campaign

Jon Crispin’s 2014 Kickstarter campaign

The Willard Cemetery Memorial Project: working to document and commemorate those buried in Willard Cemetery

NY State Museum Exhibit “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic” http://

The Inmates of Willard 1870–1900. A genealogy resource for Willard, by Lin Stuhler





Photo Essays

How to Cite

Crispin, J., & Crossland, Z. (2016). Meaning from Juxtaposition: A Conversation with Photographer Jon Crispin about the Willard Asylum Suitcases. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 3(1), 103-120.