Rankin unveils portraits of NHS workers on the coronavirus frontline: 'The humility they all shared was incredible'

Images were captured at a distance and from behind plastic sheeting

Sarah Young
Monday 29 June 2020 11:58 BST
Mum working on NHS frontline is reunited with daughters - after being apart for nine weeks

Powerful portraits of NHS workers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic have been released to mark the 72nd anniversary of the healthcare system.

The images were captured by acclaimed photographer Rankin who has previously taken photographs of the Rolling Stones, Kate Moss and the Queen.

The series includes portraits of 12 people playing a vital role in the NHS response to Covid-19, including a cleaner, porter, pharmacist, nurse, midwife and 111 call handler, as well as an ICU consultant, midwife, paramedic and IT worker.

Each of the images will be showcased across the country at bus stops, roadside billboards and iconic pedestrian areas including the world-famous Piccadilly Lights in central London this week.

Rankin, who worked for the NHS as a theatre porter during his twenties, said he wanted to offer his services during the pandemic to capture images of the incredible teams working to help keep people safe.

“It was very scary when we went into lockdown and for the first couple of weeks everybody was just freaked out and panicked and, after those first two weeks, what I realised was that I wanted to help, I wanted to do something to be part of the solution,” he told the PA news agency.

“I had done some work for Public Health England a year before on a mental health campaign so I just contacted them and said 'I'm a portrait photographer, this is an incredible moment, all of your staff right across the board are facing something that has never been faced before and we as the nation should be supporting you and what I could do is offer my services all free to take portraits of your incredible teams, from a porter through to a surgeon’.”

The photographer added that he wanted to photograph as many people in different professions across the NHS as possible as “they were all facing this very dangerous, life-threatening thing, on their own, on the front line.”

“The cleaners are cleaning around it, it's a really big thing and I didn't want it to just be the surgeons or the people that worked in ICU, although we did photograph them too, it was great because it was so diverse.”

Emma Kelly works as a critical care nurse for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust

To capture the pictures safely, Rankin photographed his subjects from behind plastic sheeting, as well as using social distancing and cleaning procedures.

The photographer said the set-up “looked hilarious” but that he wanted the NHS workers to feel comfortable and safe in the knowledge that he was taking the situation seriously.

Rankin also opened up about how he managed to connect with each of the subjects, adding that each of the workers showed “incredible humility” and refused to be called a “hero”.

“Everybody had stories and one of my favourites was Emma who was an ICU nurse who was dealing with death on a daily basis, and what was sad for her was she was actually happier at the hospital because she felt part of it, and when she went home and she had to deal with it on her own,” Rankin said.

“You don't think about that, you don't think they are having to go home and deal with this trauma on their own.

“Everyone had a different story and they were all so upbeat. They were all so positive and the one thing that really was the same with everybody was (saying) 'I'm not a hero', not one of them said: 'I'm a hero', the humility that they all shared was incredible.”

Ali Abdi works as a porter for University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust 

Discussing how emotional the experience was, Rankin said that there were a couple of times where he almost cried and found it difficult to talk to people after coming out of isolation.

“The social distancing initially was so strange, I'm sure everybody has gone through that weird feeling, where it feels very rude to be that far apart and you're supposed to be in tune with people,” he explained.

“I was really inspired but there were a couple of meetings where I got a bit teary.”

Speaking of the portrait series, Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said the images pay tribute to all NHS staff and their “extraordinary dedication”.

“This has been the most challenging year in the NHS’s history, with our amazing staff providing care to almost 100,000 hospitalised Covid patients, and many more in the community,” he said. “The participants have been photographed unhidden by PPE, to reveal the people behind the masks and celebrate the individuals they are.

“Alongside each portrait, NHS staff have shared their own personal stories from the frontline, providing a unique and touching insight into the lives of the people who are battling this pandemic and saving lives.”

All portraits have been donated by Rankin to the NHS. The full selection of portraits and their stories can be found here.

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