Friday night saw the opening reception for the “Asylum Seekers” exhibition at Brighton’s Add the Colour Cafe & Gallery, which features five photographers’ different interpretations of Hellingly Hospital. Hellingly was an abandoned Victorian-era mental asylum, open from 1901-1994. I shot there about a year and a half ago though sadly it has since been demolished in favor of townhouses and condominiums. On the day we were there, we ended up with only about 2.5 hours before we lost the light and we found security guards, having called the police, waiting by our car when we emerged. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to return to shoot again.
With this exhibition, I’m thrilled to be showing alongside work from Miss Aniela, an amazing internationally exhibited and published fine-art photographer with a unique vision and whom I wholly admire and respect. Miss Aniela is showing her piece entitled “Her Fleeting Imprint”, a cloned self-portrait from her “Abandoned” series, which evokes a sense of madness, loss of a sense of time and entrapment.
My own visual representation of Hellingly was a bright and colourful one, as its attraction to me was related to the astonishing kind of workmanship, attention to “frivolous” detail and beauty poured into public buildings that no longer exists. While today’s institutions tend to be uniformly white, monotonous, utilitarian and flourescently lit, Hellingly was full of richly patterned carpets, chandeliers, coloured tiles, intricate moldings and generous windows. Neither today’s budgets nor today’s ideologies allow that such places will ever be built quite like that again.
Of course, these physical features can obscure the very real suffering that occurred in Hellingly, and it’s that suffering that informs the photos of Barrie Griffiths. Barrie hoped to capture the “miserable beauty” of the place and the peace that has settled on it now that Hellingly’s inmates have moved on from a place once full of pain and loss.
Nicky Bryce-Sharron‘s stark black and white photos are intended to convey the sense of creepiness she felt when visiting there. “For me,” says Nicky, “it was important to capture the shadows that seemingly grow from the corners of the rooms, leading you to glance back over your shoulder from time to time as you make your way past dozens of doors, each leading to nowhere.”
Finally, Mike McLean‘s square format photos reflect his passion for urbexing and “recording images whilst trespassing in places where he shouldn’t be, be they old and abandoned or still in use.” The exhibition will remain up through 27 June.