Spirit Of Place; The Lure Of A Legendary Location

The who, what, when, and where of the story are easy.

Commercial and advertising photographer Charles Orrico was commissioned about two years ago by an ad agency to photograph at the abandoned Kings Park Psychiatric Center in Kings Park, New York, on behalf of a holding company that planned to develop the site. Building 93, the main structure in the complex, was of special interest.

All Photos © 2009, Charles Orrico, All Rights Reserved

Charles documented the site and the building in a single day. He was accompanied by representatives of the agency and the client. “It was gun and run,” he says. “Most assignments are like that—hurry up and let’s get out. But there was something about the place.

I wanted to come back. I wanted to do more.”

Indeed there is “something about the place.” Established in the 1880s and closed in 1996, Kings Park has become a local legend, a place supposedly haunted by the souls of patients who suffered and died there. Visitors report cold spots, mysterious sounds, ghostly lights, screams—even a phantom dog.

Charles says he doesn’t believe any of that, but he does say that “standing in those rooms, you get this eerie feeling, almost a presence.” So while shooting for the client, he grabbed some shots for himself, photographs that didn’t fit the client’s purpose, but rather captured what Charles was feeling about the place. “The client might say, ‘Let’s shoot this room, and get those windows in the shot,’ and I’d do that, and then I’d take my picture: one window with a shadow going across the floor.”

Clearly, there was more to be done at Kings Park and in building 93, so Charles went back three times on his own.

“You put the tripod down in a room,” he says, “and it’s quiet and the breeze is blowing through the broken windows, and you see all the chipped paint and the ruined floors and you think, my god, what went on here?”

And next you think, how can I capture this eerie feeling?

“When I was shooting the assignment, I took into account the time of day and the direction of the light. I was thinking, I’d like to shoot this room at about 3 in the afternoon on a summer day. So I knew when to shoot, when the light would be hitting the building and how it would fall in the rooms. One time I purposely wentback when there was fog.”