This is an extended version of our interview with Rachel Black that we featured in the October 2009 issue of the Legends and Lore of Illinois. Download the entire issue by clicking here.
1. How did you first learn about Manteno Hospital and what drew you to that place in particular?
I was drawn in by the history and mystery the place holds. Most artists won’t go near it for the rumors of being haunted, but for me it pulled me in. I lost my job last October and had nothing but time and decided to start this project.
2. A number of the main buildings have been torn down in recent years, did you get a chance to explore any of them? Have you ever been inside the tunnels? What is your overall impression of the remains of Manteno?
I have only been in the last remaining building left to rot away!! I believe it’s the Morgan cottage but I could be wrong. No I have not been down in the tunnels yet for I need more gear and people.
My overall expression is that it’s haunted by many but they are stuck there lost walking those corridors over and over again. When I was standing shoot the halls I could hear the shuffle of feet and drool hitting the floors. It’s an amazing experience. I am so glad to have been able to witness.
3. Have you ever experienced anything odd while photographing the buildings there?
Yes… the first time I walked onto the grounds i was knocked off my feet went down on my knees in a flash but my gear was good and I wasn’t hurt, they just let me know they were around… the attic windows are very haunting… I’ve had several faces show in my pictures and I have witnessed it. They were not very happy when I first went in… but I was there to photograph it so I was tuned in on that end of it.
4. What is the feeling you are seeking to invoke through your work?
Let them be remembered for these people were used and abused by our government and were test cases for treatment for the mentally ill. This place [Manteno State Hospital] once housed 8000 mentally ill people at its peak, it was an enormous compound and a lot went on there!! For instance, Hydo Therapy Shock tub treatments. Those rooms still give me nightmares! Read about that therapy method sometime and see how brutal it was.
5. How do you locate subjects for your series? Are you drawn to abandoned places in particular or are there other subjects you prefer to photograph?
My heart is still with my cemetery photography, however it’s all about the connection I feel while doing my work!! If I don’t feel it you won’t see it!!! I channel the energy I pick up of what is left. It’s why I was intrigued by abandoned work, it’s the mystery and the unknown of what you are going to find and how you are going to feel.
I usually drive around looking for places as I go and some days you find amazing stuff and some days nothing!! However Manteno took me a week to find, its out in nowhere land and has changed names several times.
6. Where can someone view your photographs? Do you have any upcoming showings?
My work is on Myspace (http://tinyurl.com/lxwa4s). However I am going to send you a copy of my winner who took a 250.00 cash prize and sold for 500.00 at the 66th annual Salon Show at the Munster Performing Art Gallery. It’s my first piece sold from my Manteno collection and the fact that judge from the art institute of Chicago picked me was enough for me. I am very happy to get this series out for the world to see… I am very blessed to have been able to photograph what I have there, and for it to be hanging in a Gallery thru November.
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