Harrowing Photos of the Mentally Ill in Sub-Saharan Africa

Severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away in Juba Central Prison for years on end. The new nation of South Sudan faces a tremendous challenge to build a modern country capable of caring for all of its citizens. Juba, Sudan. January 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos
Robin Hammond—Panos
Severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away in Juba Central Prison for years on end. The new nation of South Sudan faces a tremendous challenge to build a modern country capable of caring for all of its citizens. Juba, Sudan. January 2011.

At its most elemental, photojournalism documents conflict — conflict between individuals, between nations, between ideologies, between humanity and nature. Literally and figuratively, photographers capture conflagrations large and small. Some burn strong and fast; others — often the more frightening, and more destructive — burn more slowly. They smolder.

Tonight, Robin Hammond, a New Zealand-born photojournalist, received the $30,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for his attention to one of the sub-Saharan Africa’s slowly burning fires: the plight of the mentally ill.

“Where there is war, famine, displacement, it is always the most vulnerable who suffer the greatest” says Hammond. The mentally ill, he notes, are a “voiceless minority condemned to lives of quiet misery.”

Based in South Africa, Hammond traveled for two years to regions of severe crisis — eastern Congo, Mogadishu, northern Uganda, Liberia and South Sudan — photographing in stark detail the barbaric conditions endured by tens of thousands of Africa’s mentally ill. Broken, largely forgotten, the mentally ill suffer abominable degradations, literally chained and caged throughout their days.

Time and time again while working on his project, Hammond found himself at a loss for words in the face of the unspeakable.

“I discovered a entire section of communities abandoned by their governments, forgotten by the aid community, neglected and abused by entire societies,” he said. “This is not just a document of what shouldn’t be. This work is my protest.”

Hammond will use the $30,000 grant to finish the project. A book of the winning work, titled Condemned, is now available through FotoEvidence.

Javier Arcenillas, a Spanish photographer and clinical psychologist, received a $5000 runner-up award from the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund for his project, Red Note: Violence in Latin America. Documenting some of Latin America’s most violent communities — cities like Mexico City, San Salvador and San Pedro Sula — Arcenillas photographed the perpetrators of violence and their victims.


 LightBox previously featured the work of 2012 winner Peter van Agtmael and 2011 winner Krisanne Johnson.

Robin Hammond is a photojournalist based in South Africa. TIME previously featured Hammond’s work documenting Zimbabwe under Mugabe.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.


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