“The way I dealt with the stress was to take photographs.”
A photo exhibition by a London nurse, who used photography to cope with the stress of the pandemic, is set to show the stark reality of what life was like on Britain’s Covid wards as coronavirus hit.
Paediatric matron, Hannah Deller, from Bermondsey, who transformed her children’s ward into an adult covid ward specialising in palliative care, is displaying her dramatic portrayal of life in a London hospital at the height of the pandemic, at this year’s The London Photo Show in November.
The show is free to enter and takes place at London’s Bargehouse Gallery, situated in the iconic Oxo Tower Wharf, between 11th and 14th November 2021. Visit https://londonphotoshow.org/ for information.
Hannah’s collection features her colleagues dressed in full PPE, looking like they’ve beamed right off the set of an apocalypse movie. Yet for 18+ months this was a daily reality for the staff at Paddington’s St Mary’s hospital, London.
Talking of how she came to start her pandemic photographic journey, Hannah recalls:
“I remember one day I was walking down the corridor and there in the doorway to ICU was one of my colleagues looking out of the window. It was a one-way system, and he was actually stuck at the door, dressed in full PPE. It looked like a scene from a scary movie.
“I love taking photos, it’s a huge passion of mine. I trained as a photographer in New York, and now I mainly do it in and around my other passion – nursing.
“I just looked, and I was like, wow, that’s a really good shot. I felt like I needed to take that picture. So, I asked his permission and he said, ‘yes, of course’. That was my first photograph.”
From then, Hannah began to record daily life, both on the wards and on the streets around her local area. Attendees at the exhibition will be reminded of some of the bizarre sights that resulted from coronavirus restrictions. She continued:
“Looking back, I think the way I dealt with the stress was to take photographs.
“Right at the beginning, when we all started putting on PPE it was almost like dress up. It was really odd. I remember thinking ‘wow’, this is just bizarre. I think that’s why there are so many shots of me and the other doctors and nurses in PPE, it was a way of helping me to process what was going on around me.
“I started to take photos not just on the wards but on my way home too, I remember seeing some swings in a park that had been cordoned off, they looked as if a huge spider had come and wrapped them in webs. It was a surreal time.”
Photography as a way of coping
“It was a very difficult time emotionally,” she continues. “We changed our children’s ICU and ward into Adult Covid Units overnight, and we were plunged straight into a kind of horror story.
“Patients started to be admitted to the ward the same evening, one after another, a lot of whom were, sadly, palliative patients. I’d never experienced this level of sickness and death before and at times it was completely overwhelming.
“Aside from coping mentally, there were huge challenges for us as nurses. Relatives weren’t allowed to see the patients at that time and one of the most difficult things was talking to the families of the patients on Facetime and trying to reassure them that their loved ones were getting the best care possible.
As the second wave hit, almost immediately after the first, Hannah talks openly about how many of the doctors and nurses would attend psychotherapy to help them process their experiences, which included losing colleagues to the disease. For Hannah, photography was her solace, and she outlines that it helped her to remember some of the beautiful moments too.
“It sounds odd to say, but in contrast to the moments of extreme sadness and despair, there were some amazing experiences. Lots of people made it through and were sent home. Lots of people did survive. Lots of families were eventually allowed back to see their loved ones.
“It was deeply sad and terrifying but with truly, beautiful moments – they were experiences that you just can’t really ever imagine having in your lifetime. I’m so grateful I was able to take photos to help me remember this time.
“And of course, it has led on to some other amazing opportunities, displaying my work at The London Photo Show being one of them. I’ve not put my own exhibition together before, so it’s really exciting opportunity for me combining my two great passions in life, photography and nursing.”
Hannah will be exhibiting her work alongside 60 other amateur and professional photographers at The London Photo Show, London’s Bargehouse Gallery, situated in the iconic Oxo Tower Wharf, between 11th and 14th November 2021.
About The London Photo Show
An opportunity to see some truly unique and inspirational photography in one of London’s most atmospheric galleries. The London Photo Show is back in its sixth year and open to the public, free of charge, on 11th – 14th November 11am-6pm at the Bargehouse Gallery, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH.
The show is unlike any other, with its dedication to allowing new, emerging amateur and independent photographers the chance to display their work alongside professional and semi-professionals.
It’s your chance to experience the buzz of seeing this work from some of the world’s most original photographers with no ticket needed.
This year in particular contains artwork from across the pandemic with ‘never seen before’ raw, thought-provoking and emotional imagery.
Admission is free and no ticket is required. All details can be found here: https://londonphotoshow.org/