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. The Broderip was the first AIDS ward in London and was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987, the book's publication date in 2017 marking the 30th anniversary of its opening. 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 Gideon Mendel followed while he was there the stories of four patients - John, Steven, Ian and Andre.
These two wards at The Middlesex Hospital were some of the few dedicated AIDS wards that existed in London, and 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 his time at the hospital, he 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. ‘The Ward’ explores through Gideon Mendel’s evocative black and white photographs how it felt to live with HIV at this 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.
The Middlesex Hospital itself was demolished in 2005 apart from its stunning Grade II* listed secular chapel. In 2016 it reopened as The Fitzrovia Chapel as a place of quiet contemplation in the community and to celebrate live events and the arts. An exhibition of 12 images were displayed in the chapel every Wednesday and Sunday in November leading up to World AIDS day on December 1st 2017.