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Photographers offer a rare look inside abandoned institutions

December 2017

Blackstone Valley XPress
December 2017

In a powerful exhibit slated for the Heritage Gallery at Alternatives’ Whitin Mill, husband and wife photography team Mike and Joanne Zeis share their passion for taking photos in abandoned asylums. Bringing Light to the Darkness opens to the public on January 5 with a free wine and cheese reception from 4:30-7:30 PM at 50 Douglas Rd, Whitinsville, MA.Event Postcard

In their travels across New England, the Zeis’s have found that photographs of the dark and decayed interiors of forgotten institutions often hint at the lives of the people who once lived and worked there. “It’s the objects left behind by previous occupants that tug especially hard on your heart strings,” says Joanne.

While Mike seeks out the uncommon and unusual, “finding beauty in a structure's decline," Joanne enjoys discovering how the environment responds to light shining through broken windows and weather-damaged roofs. “A single ray of light can illuminate the most unexpected things,” she explains.

Institutional artifacts on loan from the New York State Museum and the Museum of disABILITY History will be on display alongside the Zeis’s photography. In addition, a selection of photos from Alternatives’ own archives taken by Derrick Te Paske at Waltham's Fernald State School when the institution was still active will be on view.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the public is invited to attend All That Remains, a presentation by Connecticut photographer Robert Marsala, on January 19 (snow date January 26) at 7 PM in the Singh Performance Center at Alternatives’ Whitin Mill, 60 Douglas Rd, Whitinsville, MA. Drawing on 40 years of experience photographing abandoned sites, Marsala will highlight ethics, techniques, and tactics for what he refers to as “extreme location photography.”

Bringing Light to the Darkness will be on display through February 23. Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, as well as weekends and evenings by appointment. For more information, contact Cristi Collari at (508) 234-6232 or Cristi.Collari@AlternativesNet.org.

Mike Zeis talks about photographyPHotographers Mike and Joanne Zeis

By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

On display at the Heritage Gallery will be the evocative photographic images shot by Mike and Joanne Zeis, a husband and wife team whose combined curiosities have led each (for different reasons) to explore and photograph the aged elements of abandoned asylums and facilities.

While imagining what day-to-day life must have been like for the owner of a crippled, dusty wheelchair, for example, Mike, an experienced cameraman who prefers to use “junkie”cameras for the distorted effects in which they produce, admits to being a man of nostalgia. His attraction to weathered, old signs, such as the Convenient Store Record Shop, spotted recently in Cambridge, have led him to question, research, and distort images via primitive photography methods and a thoughtful eye that has been acutely aware of its environment since the teenage years.

“The weather comes in and changes things,” he mentioned. “Paint peels. Things look abnormal and very different from what used to be. Photography looks at the effects of time and structures. I find this appealing.”

In line with their mission to open its doors to the community and provide meaningful lives to disabled individuals - Alternatives, a supporter of arts and culture - will proudly exhibit Mike and Joanne’s work next month, along with artifacts on loan from the New York State Museum and the Museum of Disability History, with an opening reception on January 5 from 4:30 – 7:30 p.m.

“This exhibit will speak directly to the important work that we do here at Alternatives and how society has come in improving the quality of life for people with intellectual or psychiatric disabilities,” said Cristi Collari, Alternatives Director of Community Outreach, who can be reached at 508-266-6520.


Photos by Mike and Joanne Zeis