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A Chilling And Deeply Personal Look At Life In A Psychiatric Ward Through Self-Portraits

“My project resulted in photos about a girl, me, who is on the verge of death,” photographer Laura Hospes says.

After a failed suicide attempt this year, photographer Laura Hospes was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. A student at the Photoacademy in Amsterdam, Hospes was always interested in self-portraits and during her stay she documented the experience in a series called UCP-UMGC after the unit in which she stayed. “My project resulted in photos about a girl, me, who is on the verge of death,” she says in her artist’s statement.

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Her tool is a Canon 5D Mark II fitted with a 50 mm f/1.4 lens. She shot the portraits between April 2 and July 4, 2015. “I always turn my photos in black and white after shooting to create some distance between the extremely personal moment I have in front of my camera and the viewer,” she says about the compositions. “By adding contrast, the photos become stronger and more able to hit the viewer.”

Looking at Hospes’s self-portraits offers a palpable glimpse into complex emotions: a mix of fear, sadness, loneliness, angriness, restlessness, and sometimes despair. But one thing she wants to make abundantly clear is that none of this is crazy. “Nobody who ends up in the hospital is crazy,” she describes. “It feels terrible to slowly lose control of your behavior.”

To work through the emotional chaos, Hospes shared her portraits with friends and family to stay close to the people she loves. “It really helped me to feel less alone,” she says. “It gave so much relief to be myself, even in this miserable situation.” She originally started the project for herself as a way to express her emotions, but felt that bringing other people into her world was an important part of the healing process.

“After sharing them I discovered I also feel a little rebellious about the fact that many people show only the perfect things in their life on Facebook or other social media,” she says. “I want to show that difficult stories are also ‘allowed’ and inspire people to [share their own]. I hope they also gain love and support back and feel less lonely again.”

Since the series has been covered in the press, Hospes often sees the images again and again. “Sometimes it’s like it’s someone else on the photos,” she says. “Then I can’t relate to the person in the photo anymore. Sometimes I get very emotional seeing my photos and feel the pain again. And I think that’s good for my process, to feel that pain again a few times and to fully connect and process it. But if I really need to express myself, I take my camera and do a self-portrait session.”

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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