When the first national lockdown was announced in the UK, Romanian photographer Dana Popa decided to dedicate her work to all the doctors and nurses treating patients with the Covid-19 virus. Her portraits, which go on display across three London hospitals today, honour not just the medical staff, but all the workers who are helping keep hospitals running during the pandemic.
“At the start of the pandemic, healthcare workers went without the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment and were at greater risk of being infected, facing immense pressure, whether they were treating Covid-19 patients or not. I could not stop thinking of these people and their feelings,” she told The Calvert Journal.
Popa’s portraits feature a wide range of staff working across five London hospitals, including those usually out of sight of patients: doctors, security, administrators, aides, radiographers, therapists, nurses, volunteers, surgeons, and consultants. She paired up with Imperial Health Charity to produce the series. It was important for her to show “the heartbeat of hospital life” and celebrate all the workers who are essential in the battle against coronavirus, but otherwise go unnoticed.
The photo series also reflects the diverse make-up of Britain’s National Health Service. As the UK leaves the European Union, it’s even more important to spotlight the key contributions of migrants and ethnic minorities during, and beyond, the coronavirus pandemic.
The exhibition will be on show at St Mary’s Hospital from 3 December, later moving to the Charing Cross Hospital, then Hammersmith Hospital, throughout 2021. Read on to get a glimpse into the lives of the people who have put their own health at risk, to save yours.
AJ is a midwife. She says she loves the relationships she is able to develop with both colleagues and patients, thanks to the intimate nature of her job. Her work has become far more challenging due to the Covid-19 pandemic. AJ has cared for many Covid-19 positive women in general wards. She is no longer able to comfort and reassure women in the same way as pre-Covid and says that having the physical barrier of a mask and visor has been testing during intimate moments such as birth.
Kri Agnez works in logistics, distributing food, medication, and equipment, to the various departments of the Charing Cross Hospital. Originally from Poland, she joined as a volunteer during the pandemic, and then stayed on to work in the supply chain team. She says she felt it was her duty to contribute to the hospital’s daily life in such a difficult and unprecedented situation and she highly values this experience.
John Kelly is a porter for the postal services. He has been working for the Imperial College Healthcare Trust for 45 years. Since the start of the pandemic, Kelly has worked every single day. When his boss had been furloughed, he had no choice but to take over. “I wanted to make a difference and never missed a day,” he says.
Vijaya Kumar Kanakacipathi is a technician at The Limb Centre at the Charing Cross Hospital. “VJ’s workshop was eye-opening. The silence of the artificially lit underground room, the multitude of prostheses of all sizes, and rainbow colours scattered everywhere really grab your attention,” Popa says. “He chose one cheerfully coloured prosthesis for me to photograph, and gently brought it to his chest.” Before joining the hospital, Kumar Kanakacipathi used to be a tailor, making wedding dresses.
Born in Ukraine, Vladimir Tkachuk is a plumber at Charing Cross Hospital. His workload has increased since the pandemic, with higher risks when working on a Covid-19 ward.
Clara has been a paramedic for the last two years. She says she loves her job because every day is different, and an opportunity to help people.
Margaret Kuntz has been a neonatal phlebotomist for the NHS for 22 years. She admitted that wearing a mask and a shield has made her feel more tired than usual.
Mohammed Shaba is part of the security team, working across all of the three sites of the Imperial College Health Trust.
Cassandra Alinta is a cardiac nurse, looking after patients before and after surgeries. “When I photographed her, she had just finished a long night shift,” Popa reveals.
D works in domestic services. “We came across D whilst I was given a tour of Charing Cross Hospital,” Popa says. “He was loading laundry into the washing machines in a small room in the centre of the hospital and did not want to give his real name.”