Many find beauty in nature or the human form, but photographer Jason House appreciates the eerie allure of decay. That’s the pull behind the Echo Park artist’s latest series, “Sanitarium,” on display at Gallery 417 in downtown L.A. The photos capture the current state of the historic and now abandoned Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose.
“When I approach photos, they aren’t necessarily about iconic decay or crumbling structures,” House said. “I’m trying to capture the feeling of the emotions that seem like they’re left behind, the ghosts that are still there.”
The psychiatric institution was founded in 1923 and dedicated to women suffering mild mental and nervous disorders. Owned by Agnes Richards, a nurse, the facility became popular among Hollywood elite, including Marilyn Monroe’s mother, Gladys Eley, as well as Billie Burke, best known for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” Now owned by Glendale, the property has been vacant since 2006, though monthly tours are run by Friends of Rockhaven, which is working to preserve it.
“Sanitarium” consists of images that House has collected during the last seven months. Particularly interesting, he said, has been finding the traces left by former patients: ivy bracelets on a bedside table, rosaries on the headboard, hangers and clothes in the closets. The show is part of his larger series called “Mono No Aware,” a Japanese phrase for the awareness of impermanence, or beauty of an object’s full life.
“There’s an intrinsic beauty in the impressions we make on this world as we pass through it and on objects. I want to celebrate, honor and document that,” said House, who also has documented foreclosed homes and car crashes.
House is working with writer Emily Lanigan to publish a book of the photos. It also will include historical photos, documents and first-person accounts. “Sanitarium” ends Sept. 8 at the gallery, part of the Metro 417 apartment building, 417 S. Hill St. More information: www.jasonhousefilm.com/sanitarium.