MARY ELLEN MARK
Mary Ellen Mark is one of the most famous photographers that focused their work on exploring identity of others through street and documentary photography. Ward 81 is a project that varies from her the others as it is not done on the streets or homes, but inside a mental institution. The artist fully devoted herself for the project, spending 5 weeks inside the women’s mental hospital. She lived together with the women, listening to their worries, experiences and getting to know them. After all, Mark admitted that she became one of them; becoming part of their community, her appearance changed and the idea of eating whenever one is hungry or being able to go out shopping whenever needed became more meaningful; became the definition of freedom.
The project focused on the women locked up in the institution and; although it is a photography project; the emotions, views and experiences of the patients became the key for the project, rather than the images themselves.
The photographs taken show the patients during their everyday life inside the Ward 81. The images showcase the experiences inside the hospital, presenting the viewers with different women in situations full of emotions. However, many of the photographs seem staged such as the one with a woman looking out through the window or the woman looking straight into the camera, and some could argue that they do not show the reality of these women as they were asked to look into certain direction or turn into a certain way. On the other hand, it is possible that the artist became so close with the patients; they were comfortable enough to allow Mark to photograph them during the most intimidating moments making it seem as if it was staged when, in reality, it was only captured on the right time.
The photographs vary from straight photography, through images of possible attacks (rolling on the bed or dancing on the corridor), photographs of only the wounds to intimate images of making out, social gatherings or baths. The photographs show the truth relationship the artist formed with the females.
Scott Typaldos is a Swiss photographer. He is most famous for dealing with the theme of diary and identity and continues with this focus in his present work. However, his main ongoing project has become mental health around the world. The fascination started by accident, when; in 2007; “he photographed the oil searchers of the Lambarn region in Gabon. This accidental documentary contributed to a change in the manner he photographed. Since 2010, he has been extensively photographing and researching the topic of mental illness throughout the world.”[i]
His work focuses around people with mental illnesses from all around the globe and how the problem is dealt with, in different areas of the world.
The first image was taken in the Accra Psychiatric Hospital in Ghana. The hospital is known to be of a very low standard with many of the 22 wards lacking beds, toilets, showers etc. The photograph is of a young ‘inmate’ who suffers from ‘hearing voices’. The hospital works with a pastor who often uses ‘spiritual therapies’ to make the illness disappear… [ii]
The young man (boy?) on the photograph seems to be very scared, possibly paranoid. It is unknown whether he is afraid of the people there believing they are trying to hurt him, or whether he is afraid of the things he can hear and see that others cannot. Nevertheless, this photograph presents the viewer with the result of mental illness and the inoperative treatment. The photograph makes the viewer pity the subject and start to wonder whether there is a way to help him.
The other two photographs were taken in Kosovo is 2012. They are both part of the ‘Butterflies Chapter II’ series that follows up the previous ‘Chapter I’ series that the first image belongs to. The Stime Psychiatric Institute has been financially abandoned by the Kosovo Albanian dominated government and left the patients; who belong mainly to minority ethnic groups; without proper care or help.[iii]
The first photograph is simply titled ‘Patient’ and it presents the viewer with a portrait of one of the patients of the Kosovo’s institute. His facial expression suggests that he is not necessarily happy with the existence of the camera. It is unknown whether he is angry because of the camera or the overall situation, however his eyes; looking quite sad and vulnerable; suggest that he has given up and the camera does not change anything, he is simply angry and miserable because of the place and situation he is in.
The second photograph from the series is of one of the patients ‘roaming’ around the hospital. The man does not look especially angry or intimidated; however his body language may suggest vulnerability. Some may argue that the photograph has been staged and it was not the photographer who followed and captured the patient, but the patient who followed the orders of the photographer. On the other hand, the photograph still clearly shows the conditions that these patients have to live in as well as the loneliness and susceptibility of the patient(s).
[ii] Information gathered from http://www.prospektphoto.net/stories/butterflies-chapter-1/#!;
[iii] Information gathered from http://www.prospektphoto.net/stories/butterflies-chapter-2/#!;