Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cremation Canisters as photographed by David Maisel

Beautiful and unique. That's all I can say about David Maisel's photography of these abandoned canisters from the Oregon State Insane Asylum. No, wait. There is one more word I can say in reference to this exquisite collection of photos: Jealous. As a photographer myself, I'm always looking to capture vivid images of extraordinary subject matter (and the creepier the better!). So for Maisel to have the opportunity to photograph these unclaimed canisters, holding the cremated remains of the deceased, well...yes, "jealous" may be the most appropriate word I could use.

I love the way that the minerals, contained in the copper canisters over the decades, have created phosphorous on many of the cans. That, in combination with the oxidation of the copper itself, has turned something tragic (imagine no one claiming your remains) into something captivating - so much so that I'm willing to bet many people would pay good money to have several of these pieces in their homes. I know I would.

Maisel calls this collection of work "Library of Dust." As he explains on his website (, "On my first visit to the hospital, I am escorted to a decaying outbuilding, where a dusty room lined with simple pine shelves is lined three-deep with thousands of copper canisters. Prisoners from the local penitentiary are brought in to clean the adjacent hallway, crematorium, and autopsy room. A young male prisoner in a blue uniform, with his feet planted firmly outside the doorway, leans his upper body into the room, scans the cremated remains, and whispers in a low tone, "The library of dust." The title and thematic structure of the project result from this encounter."

There were, at one time, thousands of these copper canisters contained in the "Library of Dust." Each lid is stamped with a number - the lowest being 01 and the highest being 5,118. How tragic. And yet how fortunate we are to have discovered what happened to these remains as they deteriorated over the years thanks to the talents of David Maisel. Please check out the entire story and the entire collection of Maisel's photos at his website:

Until next time,

No comments:

Post a Comment