04/07/2020

Humans of the Pandemic – Why?

Working on the respiratory (AKA COVID-19) ward at NHS George Eliot Hospital has opened my eyes to the variety and selflessness of staff that care for patients every day and night. As a photographer alongside my medical studies, I’m always on the lookout for inspiring people whose story I can capture and share. So naturally, I saw my next project everywhere I looked – in between attempts to take blood or disposing of various bodily fluids from the red (positive) bays. Humans of the Pandemic was born.

Matthew Thompson photographing for Humans of the Pandemic

I’m currently in the middle of photographing portraits of George Eliot Hospital staff, where I’m placing particular focus on those roles who have had to adapt, retrain or ramp up in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. For those wearing PPE, I want to capture their face without it too. I’m featuring those roles who are often neglected in similar projects, such as the cleaners, laboratory or bereavement teams who all contribute to every patient’s outcome and journey through the hospital. Each participant is being sent some questions along with their portraits, to find out their thoughts and feelings.

My long history as a portrait and underwater photographer has set me up well for Humans of the Pandemic. The waterproof housing I use to photograph 10m beneath the surface has a smooth surface perfect for disinfecting with Clinell wipes or soap and running water. This saves wiping every nook, cranny, button, and glass of my camera each time I change environment. I also sourced a light-wand that gives an easy-to-clean, unobtrusive yet flattering highlight for portraits of staff in their natural, often fluorescently lit habitats. The infection control team loves me.

As a result of Humans of the Pandemic, I’m working with the hospital communications team and collaborating with Outex, the South California creators of my underwater housing, who have sent me an expensive glass part to expand my creative options. So far, I’ve photographed over 30 fascinating staff members from across the hospital that I was unlikely to have met and learnt about otherwise.

Humans of the Pandemic has quickly snowballed with little signs of stopping. Who knew a hospital would have so many different people and roles working within it? I don’t want to leave anyone out, but I’m conscious of my workload. I’m balancing it on the side of my ward assistance work, my SSC2 research into out-of-hospital cardiac arrest airway management, and my second-year medical presentation list. But the interactions, photographs, and insight I’m gathering make it all very worthwhile. I’m hoping a press release and eventual exhibition will go some way to providing recognition and a spotlight to some of those incredible people who have looked after our friends and family at a small district general hospital during this unique and challenging time.

Nikon D750 camera in Outex underwater housing and light-stick on hospital bed for Humans of the Pandemic at George Eliot Hospital
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