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Raymond Depardon’s Inside Look at Italian Insane Asylums Before Their Demise

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

“One afternoon, I heard someone shouting and pushed open a door. I found myself face to face with this man in a cage. I had misgivings about photographing him. I asked a nurse why he was given this particular treatment; he told me the man was violent and a danger, especially to himself.” From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

The ways in which society at large deals with the afflicted is often horrifying, with stories of terrible treatment not yet relegated to the past. Paris-based, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Raymond Depardon‘s Manicomio (lunatic asylum), published by Steidl, is an arresting body of work depicting the inside of Italian asylums from 1977-1981 during and after the law of 1978 that closed all asylums.

In 1977, Depardon had the luck of meeting Franco Basaglia, the director of the asylum in Trieste, who encouraged him to document the institutions: “You’ll photograph patients here who you won’t see anywhere else, but it’s exactly the same in France and America. The psychiatric hospital made them that way; now it’s too late, there’s nothing else I can do for them. Take your photographs…otherwise people won’t believe us.”

The work is a document of various asylums around Italy, including San Servolo, an island off the coast of Venice which housed a Benedictine monastery before being converted into a mental health facility in the 18th century—it is now a museum. Depardon photographed this facility, and more or less had free reign to enter and photograph at will in several other asylums while they were in the process of shutting down. He encountered conditions as you might expect: overcrowded, rundown, at least one patient locked in a cage for his own safety. Not all the asylums were this atrocious, of course, and Basaglia, who was an innovative thinker, had closed the Trieste asylum and installed his most capable patients in apartments in downtown Trieste. San Clemente, another island asylum Depardon photographed and made the subject of his 1982 film, San Clemente, is now a luxury hotel.

“Manicomio,” published by Steidl is available for purchase here

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

“Through an introduction from Franco Basaglia, I met Sergio Piro, the director of a psychiatric hospital in Naples. He smuggled me into an old institution in the city center, Leonardo Bianchi Hospital. I photographed the ‘snake pit’ in the women’s pavilion, like something out of a different era.” From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon

From “Manicomio,” published by Steidl. Photo © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

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