Winner award 2014
October 10, 2014
On the 9th of October Robin Hammond, a documentary photographer and filmmaker, has been selected as the 2014 winner of the Dr. Guislain "Breaking the Chains of Stigma" Award for his striking photojournalism that exposes the mistreatment of mentally ill people in African nations in crisis. The Dr. Guislain Award program is a joint project of the Museum Dr. Guislain and Janssen Research & Development, LLC. Janssen provides financial and in-kind support for the program. The award winner receives a $50,000 prize that must be used toward further work to reduce societal stigma about mental health and disorders of the brain. Hammond's body of work will be honored today at a ceremony in New York City.
"The Dr. Guislain Award is proud to honor the work of advocates like Mr. Hammond who have illuminated the fight against stigma related to mental illness," said Siri Hustvedt, jury member of the Dr. Guislain Award selection committee and internationally known author of twelve books, including an account of her own neurological illness. "Through the power of photography, Hammond has raised crucial awareness of the challenges faced by people with mental illness in countries were mental health care is under-resourced or nonexistent."
For people with mental disability in war, in displaced populations, in regions wracked by corruption, life is dire. I didn't know this before January 2011. While covering a story for a newspaper I found a section of a prison in South Sudan where the inmates were naked and shackled to the floor: they had mental disabilities. They had committed no crime.
I had never thought about the long term consequences of disasters. We cover wars, famines, natural disasters, and displacements of people on the continent. Once the peace treaty is signed, the emergency food relief delivered, the flood waters have receeded, we leave. For the media the story is finished. The suffering is not. Deep psychological scars remain, and when the dust settles, the facilities and staff to support the mentally disabled often no longer exist.
“The Dr. Guislain Award has allowed my work to continue. My latest work endeavours to amplify the voices of those living with mental illness. They have often denied the right to speak, not because they can’t, but because they are considered crazy.”
Discovering the incarcerated mentally ill in South Sudan started me on a journey to investigate other troubled regions. Over the course of three years, in ten different African countries, I documented the mental health impact of crises. In countries in war, in refugee camps, in mental health facilities in regions sucked dry by corruption, and in countries with dysfunctional health systems, I discovered a population confined to the dark corners of churches, chained to rusted hospital beds, kept behind bars in filthy prisons.
At the heart of the issue is overwhelming stigma attached to mental illness. It means that many people living with these disabilities are not seen, their voices are not heard. It is not that they do not have the ability to advocate for themselves, it is that they are not allowed to, after-all, they are 'crazy'. Because of this, the enormity of the problem is hidden. The World Health Organization says one in three Somalis will suffer a mental illness in their lifetime. In countries in crisis stigma results in an entire section of communities at best, overlooked by their own society, at worst, the victims of severe maltreatment.
My photography project 'CONDEMNED' endevours to bring the neglect and abuse they suffer to light, to advocate on their behalf, to give them the voice they have been denied. Statistics become faces, people have names, the de-humanised become human.
Precedents exist of attitudes, practices, and policies being affected by art and media movements. Aids, famine, Blood Diamonds, the Vietnam War, even slavery - campaigns have inspired enormous change.
This initiative is just as ambitious: to create a movement to raise awareness and end the stigma infecting all parties from the smallest African village, right up to the World Health Organisation.
With the help of The Dr. Guislain Award I will be able to make the light on this issue shine brightly. With still and moving images I will document those working, with little or no support, on mental health in African countries in crisis. These humble ambassadors of hope will provide an avenue for change countering the scenes of horror I present in my earlier work. They will feature in an awreness raising campaign that will spearhead a giant leap towards influencing public opinion and targeting policy makers. With the help of The Dr. Guislain Award I will drag this issue out of the darkness - no longer will ignorance be an alibi for inaction.
I left South Sudan in January 2011 with a prison cell full of innocent people weighing heavily on my mind. The hardest part of making this work is knowing that three years later, most of them are still there.
With the aid of this award we can free them from their shackles. It may take time, and it will certainly take work, but I believe that once people see, they will care, and when they care, they will act to break, one link at a time, the chains of stigma.