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'People Not Profit': Exhibition celebrates 75 years of the NHS

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Published on 20 June 2023

Johannah Churchill
Johannah Churchill

Renowned north-east portrait and documentary photographer and University of Sunderland lecturer Johannah Churchill, who took one of the most iconic images during the COVID-19 pandemic, is having her work displayed in a new exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of the NHS. 

Johannah’s pop-up show ‘People Not Profit’, which has opened at community café and arts venue Pop Recs in Sunderland, showcases some of her most powerful NHS portraits, including “Melanie, March 2020” – which went on to define the UK’s battle against coronavirus. 

Johannah, who trained to be a nurse at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital from 2007 to 2010, captured the haunting image while working as a diabetic nursing lead in London. It shows her colleague and fellow nurse wearing PPE and helping prepare a COVID-19 clinic for patients at the beginning of the lockdown. 

“Melanie, March 2020”, which went on to become known internationally and synonymous with the pandemic, can now be seen among the emotive images on display at Pop Recs until Saturday (June 24), in an exhibition which also explores art and photography as a means of protest. 

Johannah, who joined the University in August 2021 as a Lecturer in Contemporary Photography, said: “Pop Recs is building a community here in Sunderland in the most real sense of the word. They’re helping us shape our local culture, which in turn helps us to connect more deeply to each other and therefore I couldn’t ask for better values in an exhibition partner. 

“I’m not always good at communicating my concerns with my voice – it's one of the reasons I choose to photograph – and somehow the images manage to speak louder and resonate further than my words.”  

In addition to the display, Johannah has collaborated with The Futureheads’ Ross Millard for Pop Recs to produce some powerful screenprints of her work. Postcards and t-shirts of this collaboration are available to buy at the exhibition – with all proceeds going to Keep Our NHS Public North East. 

Ross said: “I love Johannah’s work and think her exhibition at Pop Recs is a must-see. 

“I’ve really enjoyed us working together on producing some hand-pulled screen printed postcards and t-shirts for the show, which we hope will raise valuable funds.”

Ross added: “Pop Recs opened coming out of the pandemic and I think the show will really fit the space and have a big impact in the venue room and the rear courtyard.”

Johannah has been photographing healthcare professionals for the last 10 years. Themes encompassing loss, illness and isolation are frequently referenced throughout her work. Johannah’s practice is often interwoven with her history as a nurse with her most known bodies of work drawing attention to the emotional complexities of ‘care’ and its impact on the carer.

Johannah’s work has contributed to many publications such as the Financial Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian and the British Journal of Photography, among others. Her work is held by the National Portrait Gallery, the Wellcome Collection and Sunderland Winter Gardens. 

Dan Shannon, Director at Pop Recs, said: "Pop Recs is thrilled to work with Johannah Churchill to showcase some of her incredible work against the backdrop of ongoing industrial action in the NHS. 

“We see the exhibition as a perfect platform from which to stand in solidarity with NHS workers, patients and their families.”