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The Rainier School

Steve Davis | WA, United States

The Rainier School is state operated institution for the developmentally disabled, not far from Seattle at the base of beautiful Mount Rainier. The school at the Rainier School disappeared years ago. There are no young people. Many of its residents have lived there for their entire lives. They have been betrayed by their minds, and many cases, their bodies. Most of its residents are now elderly, and this extensive campus (complete
with pool, bowling alley, restaurant and its own farm) is now home to only about 370 people, about 20% of its peak capacity.

My objective was to document the final days of a school-turned rest home. In a sense, it is a carefully monitored prison. In another, it is a charming country club. Nowadays, as we avoid the institutionalization of the developmentally disabled, the Rainier School and many similar facilities are the victims of our social progress. These images represent the end of a major public commitment, and the unique culture it created. 

People, as defined by their communities, command much of my interest. Over the past several years, my work has centered on a theme of imprisonment—for reasons of crime, bad luck, or nature. Under the maternal care of the state, people lack the freedom and liberties afforded most individuals living in the United States. As subjects share housing, therapies, and uncertain destinies, real (or virtual) communities are created.

Because of my interest in the individuals that compose larger matrixes, this work is heavily grounded in portraiture. Faces become the over-arching “establishing shots,” and environment scenes are secondary. I think there is more to see in the eyes than in the architecture.

I try to reach a public audience that can use my images as a source of meaningful dialog and debate. It is my hope that as viewers look at the people and their confinements in my images, they consider some of the messy and complicated issues surrounding such a great number of people who live, laugh, and suffer in exile—hidden from view. 

Personal site: http://stevedavisphotography.com
    Gallery representation: http://jamesharrisgallery.com
    Rainier School Website: http://www.dshs.wa.gov/ddd/rainier.shtml

Olympia, Washington


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