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Photographer who took iconic shot of frightened Covid nurse joins Sunderland

Home / More / News / Photographer who took iconic shot of frightened Covid nurse joins Sunderland

Published on 17 August 2021

Johannah Churchill (left) and "Melanie March 2020"
Johannah Churchill (left) and "Melanie March 2020"

A photographer from Newcastle, who took one of the best-known images featured in an exhibition spearheaded by the Duchess of Cambridge, has started her new role as a photography lecturer at the University of Sunderland.

Johannah Churchill, who worked as a diabetic nursing lead at a hospital in London, 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 Kate Middleton’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.

Johannah, 37, said: “Even as a child I was drawn to photography, making my first darkroom prints at age 14.

“I made a decision not long after leaving school that I wanted to study the arts in higher education. Work in photography can often feel like feast or famine and nursing provided me with the ability to support myself through a photography degree in London.

“I would say having my work published in the British Journal of Photography, as well as being a part of the “Hold Still” exhibition, have been my main career highlights. My photograph, “Melanie March 2020”, has become a part of history.”

Johannah joins Sunderland at a very exciting time too.

The University has invested £1.1million in a brand new photography centre, which is due to open its doors to students next month.

The Northern Centre of Photography (NCP) is moving from its location at City Campus to its new home in the David Goldman Informatics Centre, over at the Sir Tom Cowie Campus, St Peter’s.

The new centre will be kitted out with architect-designed breakout spaces with access to the new Digital Incubator, which supports students interested in exploring freelance work. It is also a stone’s throw away from the University’s mediaHUB and the National Glass Centre, giving students the opportunity to become part of a vibrant creative hub with those studying other creative degrees.

Johannah, who specialises in portrait and documentary photography, said: “It says such a lot about the University’s commitment to the arts and to Sunderland as a great place to be.

“The current government’s focus is on science and business, which while we all recognise the importance of this – quality of life values cannot be overlooked. The arts are an essential exploration of what it means to be human, to express oneself, to offer a better understanding of the world – all alongside the aesthetics and essentials that come with design.

“I think the students will see it as it is intended - as a big investment in them and their futures.”

Sunderland Photography, Video and Digital Imaging graduates Joe Spence and Arlo Brown have been working alongside Johannah in a project documenting the development, shooting images of the facilities as they are being built and portraits of the workmen involved.

Joe, 25, from Hartlepool, who graduated this summer, said: “Working with Johannah has been great.

“It has been insightful to see her working and making photographs. She’s going to be a great addition to the photography department, and I feel the students are going to benefit from her knowledge and experience.”

Arlo, 21, from Lincoln, who also graduated this year, added: “Johannah brings a fresh set of eyes and a fresh way of practicing photography. Her approach is unique and tends to focus less on the technicalities of the subject and more on the image itself as a piece of art. When it comes to photography, she is passionate and conscientious, which I’m sure will resonate in her teaching.” It is hoped their images will be used as part of the official launch of the NCP in November.

Professor Arabella Plouviez, Academic Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at the University of Sunderland, said: “Johannah joins the photography team as a new and exciting chapter begins. The new home of the Northern Centre of Photography not only provides a beautifully designed and purpose built photography department, bringing together the digital and the traditional processes that enable our students to explore the whole world of photography, but it also provides a fantastic, student-focussed environment where work-in-progress can be explored and shared in new ways.

“Johannah herself brings really extensive expertise as a practitioner, who has worked across the commercial and the art world and brings a fresh eye to the photographic portrait. These are clearly exciting times for our photography department.”