I took this series of photographs in 1993 while visiting a psychiatric institution at Horton, Surrey which was undergoing closure to make way for the government's new Care in the Community policy. This visit re-evoked the experience of my own hospitalisation when, at the age of eighteen, I suffered a breakdown. I was committed to Our Lady's Hospital, Cork, which like Horton, is a Victorian psychiatric institution with a labyrinth of corridors which disappear into various vanishing points. In the heyday of this hospital, countless psychiatric patients would walk these cloisters, each dreary step seeming to further confer an immutable seal of institutionalisation upon their utter rejection from respectable Irish society. Up and down they would shuffle all day, year in year out, dressed in potato-stained, ill fitting hospital rags, occasionally stopping to pick up cigarette butts from the floor in order to make roll-ups. Some derived comfort from masturbating openly in this public space.
Our Lady's Hospital houses the longest corridor in Ireland. It is said to be a mile long and runs through several separate buildings in the hospital complex. I feared that I would be lost forever in the oblivion of the corridor's vanishing point. I felt that, were I ever to leave hospital, I would in some way document the tragic and appalling violation of human dignity which I witnessed there. Like those Jews who survived camp life, I felt the same need to let the outer world know the conditions of life among these beautiful people who, on some profound level, had chosen to embrace their vulnerability. These images afford me the opportunity to evidence the human experience of those countless people who have shambled up and down these enclosed corridors; a forgotten and invisible minority with no voice and no presence.
The architecture of oppression was reinforced by a disempowering, cold, cruel, clinical regime of psychiatry which threatened sedation by knock-out drugs like Largactyl, the 'chemical straitjacket'. I once saw a man being given Electro-Convulsive Therapy i.e. electric shock treatment. He was convulsing violently and it took five male nurses to hold him down in administering the 'therapy'. Also, I once saw a fine old man die alone in hospital, unloved and unknown in our fragmented and alien society.
However, one can be seduced into the darkness by righteous anger. Because I have since managed to transform this experience of a peculiarly Irish Gulag, some of these photographs are bathed in soft diffused light. The gently curving corridor punctuated by window light serves as a metaphor for peace where once there was trauma, for conflict which has been resolved, for forgiveness. These corridors are now empty, an architectural anachronism in a modern world.
Carl Jung believed that his wartime psychiatric patients held a key to peace. Perhaps it is this existential and spiritual imperative to forgive their brutalisers which makes such mental health sufferers a Shamanic witness to something higher. But that is another story...
Andrew Grannell is a photographer based in Derry and is currently establishing a Cyber Cafe for adult mental health sufferers in The Melrose Centre.