Gideon Mendel

The Ward by Gideon Mendel

Gideon Mendel’s intimate portrayal of life in an AIDS ward is on display now at The Fitzrovia Chapel.

The Ward is the Chapel’s first photographic exhibition in line with its Lineage Programme.

In 1993, Gideon Mendel spent a number of weeks photographing the Broderip and Charles Bell wards in London’s Middlesex Hospital as part of the Positive Lives project.

Diana, Princess of Wales opened The Broderip, the first AIDS ward in London, in 1987.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of its opening.

Gideon Mendel
The Ward at The Fitzrovia Chapel

Considerable bravery

This was the era before antiretroviral medications had become available, a very distinct and tragic time.

All of the patients on the wards, many of whom were young, gay men, were having to face the terrifying prospect of an early and painful death.

In particular, Mendel followed the stories of four patients – John, Steven, Ian and Andre.

Broderip and Charles Bell were two of just a few dedicated AIDS wards in London at the time. They were even more unusual for their decision to open themselves to being photographed.

Considering the high levels of stigma and fear at the time, the decision of these patients to allow themselves, alongside their families, lovers and friends to be photographed was an act of considerable bravery.

During his time at the hospital, Mendel photographed their treatment. However, he also captured many other aspects of ward life, including the intimate way in which the staff, patients and their families related to one another.

Treatment was not a passive process. Rather it was an active engagement on the part of the patients, who were often extremely knowledgeable about their condition.

The staff, too, became far more attached to their patients than was commonplace in hospitals at the time.

All of the patients in these photographs died soon after the pictures were taken.

They were the unlucky ones who became sick just before treatment became available.

Gideon Mendel
A contact sheet from Gideon Mendel’s The Ward

Gideon Mendel’s The Ward

Mendel’s evocative black-and-white photographs make up The Ward. They explore how it felt to live with HIV at a time when it was considered a veritable death sentence.

It shows how the ward at the Middlesex Hospital became more like a second home, and the staff and patients friends.

Most of the Middlesex Hospital was demolished in 2005 with only its Grade II* listed secular chapel left standing.

The Fitzrovia Chapel recently reopened as a place of quiet contemplation in the community and somewhere to celebrate live events and the arts.

Fourteen images will be displayed in the chapel every Sunday this month, leading up to World AIDS day on December 1.

There will also be Through Positive Eyes, a film project where people in London with HIV were given cameras to film and photograph their lives.

The project gives a powerful sense of how people are living with HIV today.

It was produced as part of the global TPE project – a collaboration between Mendel and the Art & Global Health Center at UCLA working with more than 130 HIV positive ‘artivists’ in ten cities around the world.

The Ward is also published by Trolley Books.

The Ward at The Fitzrovia Chapel

Exhibition details

The Ward by Gideon Mendel is on at The Fitzrovia Chapel on Wednesday, November 15, 22 and 29, and Sunday, November 12, 19 and 26. It will also be open on Sunday, December 3.

Spectrum Photographic is the print sponsor.

For more information visit fitzroviachapel.org.

Main image: The Ward © Gideon Mendel

Copy editing by Sheena Campbell.

Recent blogs

Benjamin Graham wins LPOTY

Loupe editor Luke Archer’s top magazines