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Photographer changes the image of healthcare workers

Middlesex University photography student Johannah Churchill's exploration of the plight and perception of NHS workers in a haunting series of portraits has been highlighted in The Telegraph’s graduate showcase, and selected to feature as part of the respected D&AD’s New Blood exhibition.

Middlesex University photography student Johannah Churchill's exploration of the plight and perception of NHS workers in a haunting series of portraits has been highlighted in The Telegraph's graduate showcase, and selected to feature as part of the respected D&AD's New Blood exhibition.   

The final year photography student drew on her experience as a nurse for her project, 'Watchful Waiting', an intimate depiction of a series of healthcare workers. With the NHS undergoing staff and funding cutbacks and many workers experiencing compassion fatigue, the project seeks to portray caregivers in an honest, unflinching way.    

"It's a difficult time for nurses and healthcare professionals; they are often expected to care in unreasonable situations," Johannah explains. "Compassion fatigue should be acknowledged and addressed more than it is; there's a feeling that we are all impermeable to it. It was important to me to show [caregivers] in a true light."

The title for the series is drawn from the medical term used for carefully observing an illness or injury without taking immediate action. Johannah takes a similar approach in her portraiture, quietly observing her subjects and showing them in their individual states of suffering.

"I strongly believe that there's an image of nurses as angels, as represented by Florence Nightingale onwards, which I don't think has necessarily been effective," Johannah explains. Each of her sitters, she says, shared stories of the difficulty of meeting expectations and managing day-to-day. "Every one of them had the same thing in common – they love their jobs but are sometimes finding it difficult to cope under the circumstances. I think people carry patients with them. There's a general feeling of exhaustion, and they feel that they're constantly unable to complete their jobs to the standards that they want to achieve."      

Johannah's photographs have sparked much thought and discussion within the healthcare community, with more nurses and healthcare professionals wanting to sit for portraits and share their stories. Johannah will also take part in a series of upcoming hospital talks to take the conversation further and encourage greater acknowledgement of the reality of compassion fatigue and the everyday struggles of caregivers.

Seeing the impact her work has made, Johannah says, has been incredibly rewarding: "It makes me feel that I am speaking more than just on my own behalf." 

Johannah also exhibited the collection recently as part of the Middlesex University FUTURES Art and Design degree show at London's Truman Brewery.

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