Library of dust

Charles Cowling

Posted by Vale

Oregon State Insane Asylum closed in the 1970s after operating for nearly a hundred years. Over that time inmates died, were cremated and their remains, stored in copper canisters, were stored uncollected.

The photographer David Maisel has made a photographic record of them. He writes:

The approximately 3,500 copper canisters have a handmade quality; they are at turns burnished or dull; corrosion blooms wildly from the leaden seams and across the surfaces of many of the cans. Numbers are stamped into each lid; the lowest number is 01, and the highest is 5,118. The vestiges of paper labels with the names of the dead, the etching of the copper, and the intensely hued colors of the blooming minerals combine to individuate the canisters. These deformations sometimes evoke the celestial – the northern lights, the moons of some alien planet, or constellations in the night sky. Sublimely beautiful, yet disquieting, the enigmatic photographs in Library of Dust are meditations on issues of matter and spirit.



A book of the project can be found here.

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9 years ago

The images, especially the last three, remind me of photographs of the earth taken from space – extraordinarily beautiful.

9 years ago

Gasps in amazement, I want that book.

Ru Callender
9 years ago

Absolutely stunning. Thank you Vale.

Phoebe Hoare
Phoebe Hoare
9 years ago

Excellent Vale, what a great thing to document. Right up my street!

gloria mundi
9 years ago

What a gift it is to find such beauty in such an unexpected place, and then enable us to share it.