Life on Middlesex Hospital’s Aids wards revealed in book and exhibition

A book containing a collection of photographs documenting the treatment of patients on London’s first Aids wards will be released with an exhibition in November leading up to World Aids Day.

Two men on a bed in hospital ward.

In 1993, Gideon Mendel spent a number of weeks photographing the Broderip and Charles Bell wards in London’s Middlesex Hospital. Photo: Gideon Mendel.

The Ward, which is published by Fitzrovia-based Trolley Books, contains candid photographs of patients, their friends and family, hospital staff, along with texts from doctors, nurses, other people who worked on the wards and friends of patients, including Julian Clary.

“In 1993, I spent a number of weeks photographing the Broderip and Charles Bell wards in London’s Middlesex Hospital as part of the Positive Lives project,” says Gideon Mendel who will be exhibiting his work at the hospital chapel — the only remaining part of the Middlesex which closed in 2005 and was demolished shortly after.

The Broderip was the first Aids ward in London and was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987. That visit took place in private and patients did not want to reveal their identities and refused to be photographed by news photographers. One agreed to posing for a photograph in which he shook the hand of Princess Diana, his back to the camera.

“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,” says Mendel.

“These were some of the few dedicated Aids wards that existed in London, even more unusual for their decision to open themselves to being photographed. Considering the high levels of stigma and fear that existed at the time, the decision of these four patients to allow themselves, alongside their families, lovers and friends to be photographed was an act of considerable bravery.

“During my time at the hospital, I photographed their treatment and 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, but rather 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.

“This was my first encounter with HIV/Aids, one that greatly impacted the course of my life and subsequent photographic journey,” says Mendel who is a recipient of numerous photography awards.

The site of the Middlesex Hospital in Mortimer Street went on to be redeveloped as a residential and commercial complex known as Fitzroy Place. The Grade II* listed Middlesex Hospital Chapel was restored, re-named the Fitzrovia Chapel, incorporated into the development and made a centrepiece of the public open space named Pearson Square.

Staff and facilities from the Middlesex were transferred to the new University College Hospital on Euston Road which is part of the vast estate of University College London Hospitals (UCLH) clustered around the north end of Huntley Street.

The Ward, an exhibition of 14 photographs by Gideon Mendel: 11am to 6pm Wednesdays 8, 15, 22, 29 November, Sunday 5, 12, 19, 26 November and Sunday 3 December 2017, at the The Fitzrovia Chapel, 2 Pearson Square, London W1T 3BF. Tour and talk by Gideon Mendel, 2.30pm Sunday 12 November.

The Ward by Gideon Mendel, published by Trolley Books, hardback cloth-covered, 16 x 21 cm in format, 88 pages with 48 black and white images and 20 texts, will be available from 1 November. Also available to pre-order are signed and limited edition copies.

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