Toronto photography exhibit shows an inside look at women in psychiatric facilities

Mary Ellen Mark’s Ward 81 image titled, “Tommie peeking out of room window, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, USA.” (Photo courtesy: The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation/Howard Greenberg Gallery)

A new photography exhibit in Toronto seeks to show the realities of daily life for female psychiatric residents. 

Marking their reopening for the winter season, Mary Ellen Mark’s Ward 81 opens Tuesday at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Image Centre. 

The exhibit is described as an early series by the acclaimed American photographer that strives to shed light on the “invisible lives” of women institutionalized for mental illness.

“In 1976, American photographer Mary Ellen Mark spent thirty-six days living in the Oregon State Hospital with licensed therapist and writer Karen Folger Jacobs, Ph.D., to photograph the patients of Ward 81—a high security, locked psychiatric facility for women,” according to the centre’s website. “Mark’s unique access led to a nuanced and compelling portrayal of female mental health patients.”

In the documentary-style exhibit, the residents of Ward 81 are introduced one-by-one through groupings of photographs and quotations that portray their daily lives and highlight their personalities and thoughts.

The exhibition, along with the new season of shows and public programs at The Image Centre, opens on Jan. 25 and runs through April 1. 

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