In a remote region of the former soviet republic of Azerbaijan, old friends of mine were on a humanitarian mission when they discovered a run down psychiatric hospital, in desperate need of help.

Many patients were left there for petty crimes like stealing a chicken, or for no other reason than there had no where to live, or provide for themselves. The only way to not be overwhelmed was to keep shooting pictures. I spent a week here. The stench in some areas of the hospital were so awful, like a physical presence it followed me wherever I went.

It was freezing and damp, medieval in many ways. The following year I took a youth group back to decorate some of the hospital. It was a moving experience to see a bunch of teenagers begin to see things differently as they were exposed to such intense human need. I remember feeling so pleased each day painting the rooms only to find the damp walls coming through the paint the following day.

One time we made stencils from potatoes and dipped them in green paint to create a border of leaves on the wall. Behind me I heard a crunching noise, turned and saw a man looking back to me eating the green potato. I don’t think any of us spoke as he drifted back into the dark corridor.

best viewed in landscape mode

The men’s ward. The luckier ‘patients’ get to smoke behind the wire windows.
This man would stand for ages, his arms raised to the misty beams of light, or what he saw on the television. I never knew.
A make-do mirror in the men’s dining room.
The guy in the middle who ate the green painted potato.
Women’s exercising in the courtyard.
In the women’s ward a patient endlessly paces around the dormitory
Many of the women would spontaneously dance or raise their arms.
This was a weird moment. As I was photographing the man on the left, a different man eerily drifted into a pose for the camera. It was perfect and awful all at the same time.
In the dormitory food arrives to desperately hungry women clamouring to not be missed.
A windowless door in the men’s area.
The women’s ward.
The women’s ward.