In so many photographs of the disenfranchised, subjects are shot to look wise and dignified, as if there is something ennobling about suffering. We like these images for their optimism—all that serenity makes the squalor more palatable. But all too often, when people are locked up, they lose their dignity. Psychiatric patients rarely look transcendent—mostly, they seem frightened, vacant, miserable. But shooting honest, brutal images presents another problem: That can be too much to bear. We peer in at the patients behind the iron bars and wonder if it might actually be safer with them in there. Once you meet the patients, they’re not so easy to push out of your mind. If you go into the children’s ward, you’ll hear kids screaming, banging their heads against the wall. Those could be your children. That’s the part I can’t show you.

Eugene Richards, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight: Inside the Psychiatric Hospitals the World Forgot,” in Mother Jones, March/April 2009