Other People: Goldwater Memorial Hospital
Other People is a personal document of the disabled resident patients of a New York City chronic care institution. Located on Roosevelt Island, Goldwater Memorial Hospital, established in 1939, housed approximately 1000 people. They say they take no comatose, semi-comatose, cancer or mentally ill patients.
The patients at Goldwater hospital are representative of the worst cases of disability and without doubt the most "hidden" group of disabled persons. They are the unfortunate recipients of stroke, accident, birth defect, or progressive diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and hereditary disorders like Huntington's Chorea.
I went to Goldwater Hospital driven by my response to the Jonestown massacre suicide of 909 people in Guyana, SA. I remember feeling struck with nausea and shock while reading the story one morning on the bus going up Madison Avenue. Soon afterwards, as death remained in my thoughts, I began inquiring how to go about photographing something so real but so ethereal as "death.". An ICP student who had done his NYU dental internship at Goldwater, directed me there as a way to start my exploration.
At first I signed up as a weekend volunteer. After six months, I asked and received permission from the administration to photograph. By that time I felt some comfort and acceptance by the people I got to know. In the beginning, too afraid to point my camera at a face, I photographed body parts with trembling hands. Slowly I grew braver but always with respect and clouded with guilt and trepidation.
After three years of intermittent work on the weekends, I read that an Iranian hostage was being released for reasons of illness due to Multiple Sclerosis. Sensing a newsworthy reason to bring awareness to MS, I went directly to Life Magazine with my Goldwater photographs.
I was sent on assignment to photograph one of the resident-patients who was struck with a very debilitating case of MS. The photo essay ran for ten pages, July, 1981. Anne Fadiman was the writer assigned. After excerpts from my journal were included in the article, I lost my permission to photograph.
In 2014, the Goldwater Hospital buildings were razed and all the patients relocated.