Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder which destroys human life and the life of the whole family.  It affects around 21 million people worldwide and claims enormous money for treatment. Annually from 5 to 10 percent people suffering from schizophrenia commit suicide and are 2-3 times more likely to die from any other physical illness than any other human being. Stigma and discrimination of human rights of people with schizophrenia is a common practice. The UK documentary photographer Louis Quail recently made a series of photographs “Big brother” dedicated to his elder brother coping with this disability.


Disturbing a war zone

Louis Quail is now a famous UK documentary photographer. He has been working for such well-known organizations as “Sunday Times“, “Saturday Telegraph“, “Marie Claire” and others. He explored the globalization by taking shots of people working in the office in the series of pictures “Desk job“.  His solo show “Before They Were Fallen” toured the UK and was dedicated to his personal interest in Aftermath and lead him to such distant regions as Libya, Afghanistan, Haiti and Kosovo.  However, the inspiration for his more recent project was found on the home ground.

Louis himself learned a lesson of tolerance at a very young age. His elder brother Justin was diagnosed with schizophrenia when Louis was a child, and all his life he remembered Justin as a man suffering from a mental disorder. Stigma and violence against mentally ill people have always been disturbing his vivid mind by raising the question of how fair and legitimate it was.


Big Brother: How Louis Quail Fights Stigma By Documenting Schizophrenia

Big Brother: How Louis Quail Fights Stigma By Documenting Schizophrenia

Big Brother: How Louis Quail Fights Stigma By Documenting Schizophrenia

In his recent projects, the photographer has already discovered problems of coping with the loss of close people and living under severe circumstances of a totalitarian regime and endless violence and war. The idea of showing someone dealing with the everyday struggle against your own mind and facing misunderstanding and animosity from the rest of the world was formed under conditions Louis was born and raised in.

It’s something people probably haven’t seen before because, unless you have someone in your family who has schizophrenia, then it’s something you just don’t see. People are so obsessed with protecting the mentally ill they become like a war zone, with no access to the media, and therefore forgotten about.

Showing everyday backstage

Louis started working on the project in 2011 and for 6 years has been watching after his brother’s life, his everyday habits and challenges he faces regularly. The pictures Louis made tell us the life story of Justin, the man who is slightly different from us, but who is a human anyway with his own passions, preferences, and love.  A collection of intimate pictures interfering into Justin’s private room give us the feeling of our own presence on the stage, what makes our perception of the image to a more personal one.

Through the lens of the camera, we see how Justin spends his day in his apartment, smoking cigarettes or reading in the bed. We see the wide spectrum of his hobbies, where the leading role plays bird watching. This passion he carried from the earlier ages and now it is an important element of his daily routine which determines whether the day brings him joy or not.

Another long-lasting issue bringing Justin joy is his romantic relations with Jackie, a woman suffering from schizophrenia along with alcohol abuse. The photographer depicted the surprising love story between these two people and their struggles with one another and the world around. Justin and Jackie have kept their tight connection to each other for 20 years already, what also makes their story remarkable.

Big Brother: How Louis Quail Fights Stigma By Documenting Schizophrenia Big Brother: How Louis Quail Fights Stigma By Documenting Schizophrenia

The images show their life as the life of any other couple. A shot of Justin and Jackie eating lunch outdoors together during a holiday is an example. Despite the illness they both suffer from, their relations have its difficulties and controversial moments, which, however, are partly caused by a changed world perception due to their physical peculiarities and partly by their personalities, with their own strong motives and principles. The thing which actually characterizes every human being in the world. These principles often burn the fire and spark quarrels with fighting which several times ended by calling the police. As the result, Justin several times ended up in the police station.

So what is this all about?

Another important issue regarding these people is determining whose duty it is to take care of them. Louis tells that the social centre Mereway Day Centre, a place which helped people like Justin for a long period of time was shut by the government in 2007. Under conditions with no specialist care, people got used to calling the police which is having a sort of a substitute function. And when they receive a call they have to deal with this.

I was reading something saying it’s cheaper to keep someone in jail than to keep them in the mental health bed, so maybe it seems like good value. But what they’re not factoring in, is that when these mentally ill people come out of prison, they’re not being rehabilitated in any way.

Louis Quail aims to show justice and plans to edit the book with 200 pages, showing more Justin with his personal and unique features, without placing the focus on the illness itself as it demolishes the face of a human being and puts a face of a schizophrenia sufferer instead. By making the story of his elder brother intimate and personal Louis underlines the significance of human component in the dialogue with mental illness and society.

Big Brother: How Louis Quail Fights Stigma By Documenting SchizophreniaBig Brother: How Louis Quail Fights Stigma By Documenting Schizophrenia

Describing the core of “Big Brother” the photographer determines the goal of it as a complex one: “But really it’s about value, it’s about resilience, it’s about stigma, it’s about care in the community, and how we care for our society. And it’s also about bird watching.”


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