Scott Typaldos has felt compelled to shine a light on the conditions that people with mental illness are living in around the world. He first began his project in 2011 when he photographed at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital in Ghana. While in Ghana, he photographed in so-called “prayer camps” where he witnessed patients being chained to trees or to walls. Typaldos’s compulsion to shed light on the conditions mental health patients live under has now spanned five years and has taken him to Ghana, Togo, Kosovo and in the latest chapter of his project, Indonesia.
Typaldos has titled his project “Butterflies.” To date, he has completed four chapters and is at work in the Philippines on the fifth. He explains how and why he came up with this title, saying, “In Ancient Greece, drifting souls were often represented by butterfly symbols. This was a direct link to Psyche, the soul goddess, who was similarly depicted with delicate Lepidoptera wings.
“When looking for a title for my work on the mental condition, I wanted a word that elevated the individuals I had met above the stale, socially created traumas and stigmatizations, which had ruined their lives. The word ‘Butterflies’ soon imposed itself as an image of a delicate but radiant state of being. A description of freedom constantly terrorized by the outside world and an unstable condition made splittable by a misplaced caress. This soul vulnerability constantly immersed in fear became my main obsession while photographing the men and women frozen in institutions or healing centers.”
Chapter four of Typaldos’s “Butterflies” centers on an investigation of the conditions mentally ill people face in Indonesia. Typaldos describes their condition: “In their cages, enslaved by chains, past the other’s indifferent abuse, apparent animals are holding onto a dying humanity. Others are dreaming of freedom through the ingestion of a primal state. Everyone deeply estranged but so closely linked by a raw matter.”
Mental illness is a far-reaching and often stigmatized condition in our world. The World Health Organization has estimated that one in four people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime.