It’s not every day you’re offered the opportunity to photograph the inside of a now disused asylum for the mentally and the criminally insane. True Australian horror stories. But what should you do when the opportunity presents itself? You get creative.
I took some costumes, a friend who often models for me and some fellow photographers two experience two buildings known as J Ward and Aradale. Closed down only 30 years ago, these tortured, or in some cases, not-so-tortured souls were caged up no better than animals. The use of things like psychedelic drugs and shock therapy on people with epilepsy and even unwed mothers!
We had a guided tour, where we heard many horror stories about both places. We tend to have a morbid fascination with horror stories from our past. Hard to believe what was happening behind closed doors.
I wanted to capture some of the essence of the location — the horror, the repulsion, the fear and extremes that the patients must have faced. Not only myself, but my model, were pushed so far out of our comfort zone, leading us to capture some truly conceptual images, with a bizarre and haunting feel.
Down a worn and darkened stairwell led to a single room containing a cast iron bathtub, with which ALL the inmates used once a week. It was dank and disgusting — I can only imagine what it was like back in the day! At some time bathrooms were added outside, but they really weren’t much better.
Stories of unwed mothers, strong-willed women and people with Down syndrome or epilepsy left here. Forgotten to fade away from the memory of family unable or unwilling to look after them. Heartbreaking stories. How they must have long to leave the confines of these places.
Down the back, away from the main buildings and surrounded by peppercorn trees (to help cover the smell) was the morgue.
This was not for the faint of heart. I captured images that chilled my soul. It was gruesome and creepy, but still kind of cool. Granted, this is not for everyone. But I believe photographing and recording images of these places can change you.
It’s not just about capturing chipped paint and peeling wallpaper. People lived within these walls, perhaps existed is a better term for it. True Australian horror stories.
I’m sure there are places like this all over the world. One would hope that in this day and age we have come a long way from where we were.