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Library of Dust Hardcover – September 1, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Photographer David Maisel's work is held in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, among others.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books; First Edition edition (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811863336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811863339
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 0.8 x 17.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,537,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Because "Library of Dust" is unique in its subject matter and presentation, it defies comparison or categorization. In my experience people are either moved and fascinated by it or indifferent and I suspect that reflects their life experience and aesthetic.

I had been struggling to find out whether my distant relative was one of the unclaimed cremains at the Oregon State Hospital (hospital for the "insane" when my relative died there over 50 years ago) when we found this book. We found it to be a rare two dimensional representation of an emotionally charged, complicated historical era. How better could you communicate how embarrassingly insensitive and ineffective our closeting of inconvenient people was for so many years? This book is not accusatory or bitter; it is ethereal, hopeful and maybe just a little sad, but I do not find it in any way depressing. After "Library of Dust" began to have its impact, the state laws that restricted access by the public to information on what had happened to over 3,500 people were changed and I was then able to find out that my relative was indeed still there and both her cremains and limited (though complete) medical records (less than one page per year of institutional care) could be reclaimed by my family.

David Maisel revealed how these cremains had been hidden away and forgotten, like the people they had been, and yet, somehow these canisters and their contents became distinctly individual again and surprisingly beautiful in an eerie way. In the dark with no intervention from the living world, these lost souls evolved. What an amazing visual metaphor for the wonderfully idiosyncratic uniqueness in each of us--even after death. And the book is a stark reminder of society's responsibility to the more challenging members of our community.
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Format: Hardcover
In the late 70's I worked in a psychiatric hospital in Wales, UK, where there were still women who had been incarcerated for having illegitimate children in the 1930's. In the early 80's I worked in a hospital in Cheshire, UK, where nurses brought bags of cigarette stubs from home to give to patients as `rewards'. Chewing these dog ends was a popular means of ingestion. This was considered amusing.
I have often thought that the forgotten inmates of these hidden hells needed something like a Holocaust memorial. When I first saw one of the images from the `Library of Dust' in New Scientist, I instantly felt that David Maisel had a given us a huge contribution towards that.
Whatever the strange alchemy that corroded the canisters in this extraordinary way the outcome is hauntingly, strangely, beautiful. Some of them look like weather systems on strange planets or maps of ocean currents: they have a quality that I can only call soul.
As an art psychotherapist I work every day with the capacity of art making to express, contain, transform, and heal suffering and trauma. This individual healing power of art can sometimes work at a social and cultural level too. The Library of Dust helps us to face and remember the collective shame of `the bins', as they were appropriately nicknamed in the UK. The Russian poet Yevtushenko wrote that `That which has not been expressed/ Will be forgotten/That which has been forgotten/Will happen again'. This work, with all its eerie beauty, stands as art: but is also a step towards healing a deep shared cultural wound, and is a medicine against forgetfulness.
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Format: Hardcover
The very size of this book, a bit over 17 by 13 inches, suggests that it has something momentous to show you, as indeed it does. Though slender and easy to cradle in your lap, it is a slab of a book that looks as if it might also rest comfortably on the lectern in a pulpit. Though light in the hand, with the weightlessness of pure spirit, it has a certain gravitas about it, like a text delivered on a stone tablet from a mountain top.

What the book contains, though, is not a text, but a sequence of photographs. The book came about as the result of a brief article that caught David Maisel's eye in 2005. It told of some copper canisters that had been discovered at an Oregon State psychiatric hospital after decades of storage in an underground vault where they had been water-damaged. Because Maisel had made aerial photographs of open-pit copper mines, whose tailings discolor in amazing ways the water into which they're dumped, he suspected that these canisters might be extraordinary objects to see. There were 3,500 of them, each containing the unclaimed remains of a patient who'd died at the hospital and been cremated between 1883, when the facility opened as The Oregon State Insane Asylum, and the 1970s. During his first visit to the room in which the canisters were now stored in neat rows on floor-to-ceiling shelving, a prison inmate on a clean-up detail stuck his head in the room and, letting out a low whistle, said softly, "the library of dust."

Like the pollution from the copper mines, these canisters fit a pattern in Maisel's career of photographing what he calls "things that aren't intended to be seen." He was moved by the poignancy of the fact that these objects represented people "who had been . . .
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