“The Lunatic Asylums like Prestwich grew up in the same period as the industries,” writes Manchester academic Janet Batsleer, “and, like the industries, they closed.” Batsleer first visited Prestwich, where her mother was a patient, in 1972, the year Martin Parr began his first visual essay series at the hospital as a young photography student at Manchester Polytechnic. These are portraits, Batsleer writes, “of the lives of working-class people, who no longer had any recourse to family support and had to face the shame associated with places like this. The Workhouse. The Lunatic Asylum.”
Parr’s photos show patients participating in music therapy sessions, fancy dress parties, and football matches against other hospitals: moments of levity, tedium, vulnerability, and sadness. The photographer first settled on the project when he visited a friend’s brother who had been admitted. “I was so taken with the place,” he says, “that I decided to do some work and sought out permission to photograph there, then got stuck in for the following three months, photographing constantly. Visually it was very striking. The whole atmosphere…you just knew there was scope there. When you’re a nineteen year old photographer, you have aspirations, but it’s difficult to know actually what to say. But suddenly I found something I wanted to articulate.” He doesn’t tell us what he intended to get across with his photo essay of Prestwich, but leaves it the viewer to interpret.
View the photographs here: