Before the current situation, London-based artist and photographer Lewis Khan was granted unrestricted access to two hospitals in the capital over a four-year period. He was permitted to attend operations, observe patients and staff in pain, in joy, in despair. He became a part of the instantly familiar but always alien world of the hospital, with its strange aesthetic, its 24-hour artificial lighting, its contraptions and rituals.
The result is a brilliant photobook, ‘Theatre’. On the one hand, it’s a remarkable portrait of the NHS at a time when our society’s relationship to its health service is being revised on a daily basis. On the other, it’s a study of shared humanity, of the fears we have in common – of death, loss, pain. In a touching closing of the circle, all profits from sales of the book are going to the NHS.
Khan says of ‘Theatre’: ‘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. 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. I initially set out to create an overtly political body of work. Over time this political focus became [a] context to the project, and what emerged was a much more universal study of human strength and fragility.’
‘Theatre’ avoids the sentimental and the trite. It’s sometimes brutal – a blood-spattered bag drips on to a floor, a pair of forceps acting as a makeshift clamp. It’s sometimes calm – there are serene portraits of patients and staff that have an almost medieval simplicity. Above all, it’s a reminder that the NHS is a collection of people, not just of ‘resources’ or equipment, or facilities.
Check out some of the pictures from ‘Theatre’ below.
Lewis Khan is a photographic artist from London, working with stills and moving image.
‘Theatre’ is published by The Lost Light Recordings, £50. All profits go to the NHS. Preorder here.