The Photograph Explained – “Authorised persons only”: Mayday Hills Asylum, Beechworth

Mayday Hills

Silver gelatin photograph

There is something about being at Mayday Hills that draws you into deep contemplation. Contemplation about the lives, the care and the conditions of those who were to be the Asylum’s first “unfortunates” in 1868 and all those hundreds that followed, who lived and died there until closure in 1995.

In his book “the Lion of Beechworth”, local author Doug Craig recounts the personal, the sad and the humourous as well as documenting history. “Her rouge-covered cheeks highlighted by generous applications of pale makeup powder. The tragedy, which she was unaware of, was that she was the mother of twins who had not shared any part of her life”.

It is as if the presence of so many, confined for so long, lingers on the remains of the ha ha wall, in the courtyards, around the aged surfaces of the buildings and under the still enduring magnificent trees.

This photograph was made outside the laundry where inside female patients, supervised by staff, once worked in the foul linen and the other washrooms, and on other tasks. The laundry was an essential part of the hospital, operated by steam engine with wash troughs of wood or stone. They were long days of hard and heavy work.

I was attracted to the way the light was falling on disused doors and faded walls – there was a feeling of abandonment, and there was an irony in that the door signage says “authorised person’s only”.

I am not very experienced in large format or developing and printing. This photograph is scanned from the negative. I am at straight print stage and working toward a final silver gelatin print where a sense of foreboding and a sense of what life was like for those confined with a mental illness is retained, yet there is a sense of the resilience of human spirit. If I can achieve what I have in mind I will be very happy.

Place: Mayday Hills – Beechworth – with the Large Format Group
Time: late afternoon light, late winter 2013
Camera: Takihara 4 x 5
Film: HP5+ developed in HC110 diluted at 1:60 for 12 mins.
Paper: MG ART 300, selenium-toned 1:40 for archival quality rather than tonal shift.
Size: 10 x 12 ½ inches on 11 x 14 paper.

Wendy Watson

Wendy Watson