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Lecturer's photography talents put in the frame at Freeman Hospital

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Published on 19 May 2022

'Watchful Waiting' portraits by Johannah Churchill
'Watchful Waiting' portraits by Johannah Churchill

A photography lecturer from the University of Sunderland, who took one of the most iconic images during the COVID-19 pandemic, is now having her work displayed at the Freeman Hospital.

Johannah Churchill has loaned a selection of artwork from her series – Watchful Waiting – to the Freeman, which is part of the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

‘Watchful Waiting’ is a medical term used when an illness or injury is observed intently but no immediate action is taken.

The series of images explores our relationship with compassion. It is focused on NHS workers, considering the nature of suffering and the effect it can have on both patient and carer. The project acknowledges the complexities of both receiving and practicing care.

Johannah, who trained to be a nurse at the Freeman from 2007 to 2010 and has a Masters in photography from London, joined the University of Sunderland as a lecturer in Contemporary Photography last August.

She said: “I am thrilled to see the work going up where my journey started as a nurse, and where my mother worked for many years.

“Nursing afforded me an insight into what it means to be responsible for the lives of vulnerable people and the impact that care delivery has on the carer. Working as a nurse has put me in a good position to understand the difficulties faced by healthcare workers to deliver care often in difficult and, as we have seen very recently, often extreme circumstances.”

Before arriving on Wearside, Johannah worked as a diabetic nursing lead in London. It was during this time she created the haunting image “Melanie, March 2020”, which went on to define the UK’s battle against coronavirus.

The picture shows Johannah’s colleague and fellow nurse wearing personal protective equipment and helping to prepare a COVID-19 clinic for patients. It was entered into the Duchess of Cambridge’s “Hold Still” photography project at the National Portrait Gallery in London and displayed on posters and billboards around the country. The image was also painted into a giant mural on a building in Manchester.

Two years on, Johannah continues to capture NHS staff, giving visibility to the people behind the masks.

On her latest portraits, Johannah said: “I hope the images offer time to reflect, as well as open up a dialogue for healthcare workers to communicate with each other about the struggles that they face every day.”

In the coming months, Johannah will be working on a series of portraits with the Trust’s staff as part of the Newcastle Hospitals Arts Programme, which is funded by Newcastle Hospitals Charity.

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