Photo project

In the Cuckoo’s Nest: Patients of a Mental Hospital in Stepan Rudik’s Project

Ukrainian photographer Stepan Rudik spent some time living in a mental hospital and took a different view on people who receive treatment there.

Stepan Rudik age 32

Born in Izmail (Odessa oblast). Received a degree in photography from Kyiv National University for Culture and Arts. Specializes in reports, portraits, genre photography. Is a member of the Union of Photo Artists in Ukraine and Russia. Winner of international contests, received a Gaude Polonia scholarship from the Polish National Center for Culture in 2010.

“Different” is an observational project. In no way did I want to dishonor my heroes, nor did I want to show their living conditions. When we see one of those people that the civilized countries put in a mental hospital, we look down on them. We think this can never be us. We hide behind our own ignorance and indifference.

This mental hospital is located in a former NKVD (The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs in the USSR) prison. Further down the street is the only maternity ward in the 100 thousand person town; next to it is the hospital; to the right of it is the City Executive Committee (a local executive body); to the left is the prison, also the only one in this town. So, the mental hospital is inside this triangle.

I never had any problems with the patients. I almost instantly made friends with a patient my age, and he was almost always by my side as a guard. At first though, everyone freaked out, but from day two they started to get used to both me and the camera.

I was, of course, scared to share a hospital room with the patients at night, and I was even more scared to wake up there.

I remember that the first thing I saw when I woke up was a patient washing the walls with a mop.

At some point you start doubting your own normalcy, but I had a camera, and it became my bridge to the normal world. It is amazing – a small piece of metal and glass, but what a difference it makes!

My rules for a documentary shoot are non-involvement and observation without directing the events, although the person with the camera does change the reality with their very presence. I don’t want to tell you patient stories and why they are at the hospital – this is personal. We need to remember that the photographer is responsible for every millimeter of their photograph. I can only say that today more than a half of the patients whom I have photographed have long passed away. (Editor’s note: the project was made in 2006).

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