You Know It When You See It

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Fitzrovia Chapel

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Exhibition by Gideon Mendel: The Ward

Here’s some of the information on the exhibition from the Fitzrovia Chapel website:

“In 1993, Gideon Mendel spent a number of weeks photographing the Broderip and Charles Bell wards in London’s Middlesex Hospital as part of the ‘Positive Lives’ project. The Broderip was the first AIDS ward in London and was opened by Diana, Princess of
Wales in 1987, this year marking the 30th anniversary of its opening. 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 Mendel 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. […]

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. It shows how the ward at the Middlesex Hospital became more like a second home, and the staff and patients friends.”

The exhibition also includes video material of people who currently live with HIV – they share photographs they themselves took of their lives, and give their own commentary on the experience. 

At some point I realised that being where I was challenged some of my prejudices.

I had not come with prejudice against people who have HIV, but with prejudice against the church.

But there I was, looking at an extraordinary witness to human suffering and human kindness. And there I sat listening to a gay man talking about reclaiming his life after his HIV diagnosis, including his love life, sharing intimate images of himself and his partner, being a witness himself to hope and to the possibility of a full life, with HIV.

And I realised that I was hearing and seeing all this

in a church.

I have a pretty critical view on the institutional church as a whole.

But church can be this too. Church can be with the people and for the people, deeply engaged in their pain and suffering, loneliness and love. Church can give us opportunities to be moved by the lives (and deaths) of those around us. It can give us a chance to face each other truthfully and with compassion. 

The sad thing is, this is an exception. At least in my experience. This is a level of openness to actual human beings as they are, with all they bring, that I’ve rarely seen anywhere near the church.

I was glad to see it today. This is what I want church to be. I think this is what church must be to have significance. This is what church should be about.

And there are people who can see that. The kind of people who enable exhibitions like this one to happen in a church. 

This is the gospel, this is the good news. 

You know it when you see it.

(The exhibition is open on November 5, 8, 12, 15, 19, 22, 26, 29 and December 3, between 11:00 and 18:00. If you can, go see it. It’s important.)

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