Archaic Sanctuary

Photographer Christopher Payne originally trained as an architect and has dedicated himself to the exploration of America’s industrial heritage. For the featured series Asylum, he conducted a seven-year survey of America’s state mental institutions. Although now largely neglected and fallen into disrepair, these structures functioned as symbols of civic pride, envisioned by the physicians of the time as sanctuaries of healing. Constructed between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, the buildings were abandoned in later decades due to advances in psychiatric care and an increasing focus on community-based treatment. Payne’s photographs marvel at the palatial expanse and peculiarly ornate features of their collapsing interiors, most of which still carry unsettling traces of former patients. Many were designed by prominent architects, reflecting their grand scope – the few remaining examples leave a fascinating record of a self-contained world.