Over the last four years, London-based photographer Lewis Khan has spent time with us at Chelsea and Westminster and West Middlesex University Hospital as our Photographer-in-Residence. His new book, Theatre, is a result of Lewis’s time with us and is a new body of work that looks at the intimate realities of the NHS.
In 2015, we invited Lewis to undertake an artist residency with us and what emerged was a powerful study of human strength and fragility. Lewis was granted rare access to both our hospitals over a four-year period producing an award winning body of work entitled Our NHS. Lewis turns his lens on the people that make up the hospital – the staff and the patients, and on the clinical procedures and wider environment.
“When I started working in the hospital I felt like I’d seen the often-mediated hospital images before, usually either superficial or sensationalist. I didn’t want to do either of those things, I was looking for a path of subtler authenticity”, Lewis comments. “So my challenge was: how do I work in such a heavily mediated place but do something that feels like my own? Taking photos, for me, is a way of being tactile with the world – it’s a way of navigating feeling.”
Lewis’s practice in our hospitals was always considered and reflective – often shadowing members of staff for days and weeks at a time before introducing a camera. The process of embedding himself within the hospital setting offered Lewis the insight needed to hone the concept and create work in an extremely sensitive environment.
Professor Mark Bower, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, says: “Hospitals are viewed in many ways by the countless people who pass through their doors. Patients often fear them, whilst their relatives may praise or criticise them. To clinical staff, hospitals are both a place of work and frequently a centre of social life. Hospital managers and government officials constantly rank them in financial terms based on their indefinable productivity. Architects may abhor their outrageous penchant for functionality over aesthetics, but artists often find inspiration in the humane aspects of the care provided.”
Theatre offers a unique insight into the frontline of the NHS. From surgeons, scrub nurses and matrons, the operating table itself, to some of Europe’s leading Oncology Consultants and their patients, Theatre is a study of the people that make up the hospital, and the fabric of their environment. Through very rare, prolonged and unprecedented access, Lewis worked intimately amongst high-level clinical situations and procedures, whilst at the same time focusing on the lesser seen aspects of the hospital – cleaners, visitors, staff rooms, bed bays, curtains and things left behind. This all encompassing approach both pairs and juxtaposes the clinical with the sentimental, Theatre seeks to deepen our understanding of the fundamental themes running through healthcare and its environment, such as mortality and well-being.
Trystan Hawkins, Patient Environment Director at CW+, says: “Lewis fully immersed himself into the workings of the hospital, which included him working closely with our most vulnerable patients on some of our most difficult wards. Lewis’s understanding of how to work with patients was exemplary, making them feel comfortable and at ease at all times. As an organisation we pride ourselves in our ability to facilitate unique and culturally significant works in the healthcare environment such as this one.”