'Back in 1976, Mary Ellen undertook her biggest long-term project yet — photographing the women of Ward 81, an all-female psychiatric treatment facility inside Oregon State Hospital in Salem. She had her first encounter with the residents — many of whom were deemed ‘dangerous,’ — while on the set of the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975. After a back-and-forth with the institution, along with the patients and their families, she managed to gain access almost a year later. Together with her collaborator, licensed therapist Dr. Karen Folger Jacobs, she lived and worked in Ward 81 for almost five weeks, returning to an adjacent wing at night to sleep.
“I became interested in the patients and asked their permission to come back later for some pictures,” Mary Ellen recalled later in an interview. “I lived very intensively with the patients for [several] weeks. I slept in a small cell and I ate with them in the morning. Just like everywhere, during my presence, people behaved tough and outside themselves [at first]. At some point, they got used to me and forgot I was there at all.” ' (i-D)
Edited by Martin Bell, Julia Bezgin and Meredith Lue, 288 pages, 141 images, Hardback / Clothbound, 30.5 x 30.5 cm, English, Steidl Edition 01/2023