That Way Madness Lies

America has long had a tumultuous relationship with its mentally ill, and Ralena Gordon has spent the last five years documenting it in a photo collection she's named The Empty Places. Tonight at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, she'll discuss her work at a fundraiser that she hopes will focus awareness on the history of mental illness and its institutions in this country, and also raise the money she needs to complete a documentary on the topic.

"My grandmother was institutionalized when she was younger, before I was born," Gordon explains. "It's kind of a forgotten history that younger generations don't know anything about."

Gordon's project started as a senior thesis that focused on just eight institutions, with photographs capturing the haunted quality of these empty, castle-like "asylums," placing structural beauty in stark relief against the sterility and, in some cases, decay inside. Since then, she's captured many more buildings, as well as more historic information. This evening's program, which starts at 6 p.m., will feature not just Gordon's photos, but also more information on mental health, a Q & A session, live music and appetizers. Tickets are $20; for more information, go to or call 818-326-9492.
Sat., April 14, 6-8 p.m., 2012

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Shaughnessy Speirs