On the day the incredible Nightingale Hospital, built in just nine days to treat coronavirus patients , has opened in London, we also pay tribute to another hospital with an extraordinary purpose.
When the chapel was part of the Middlesex Hospital, the Broderip and Charles Bell wards were some of the few dedicated AIDS wards that existed in London. Gideon Mendel‘s photographs from 1993 show how these wards became more like a second home and the staff and patients friends. The Broderip was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987. 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 followed while he was there the stories of four patients – John, Steven, Ian and Andre. 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. The Ward was exhibited at the chapel in 2017. As the chapel is now temporarily closed, we are offering people a second chance to view the show – this time online.