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Rankin details emotional experience of photographing NHS frontline workers

He travelled round the country to take photos of healthcare staff.

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Rankin photographing Ali Abdi (Rankin/NHS)

Rankin photographing Ali Abdi (Rankin/NHS)

Rankin photographing Ali Abdi (Rankin/NHS)

Rankin has said he came close to tears as he photographed hospital workers on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis to mark the anniversary of the NHS.

The celebrated portrait photographer travelled round the country at the height of the pandemic to take pictures of 12 people playing a vital role in the NHS response.

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Ali Abdi, a porter at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (Rankin)

Ali Abdi, a porter at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (Rankin)

Ali Abdi, a porter at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (Rankin)

The collection will be showcased around the country on billboards, at bus stops and at the Piccadilly Lights in Piccadilly Circus to mark the 72nd anniversary of the NHS.

He told the PA news agency: “It was very scary when we went into lockdown and for the first couple of weeks everybody was just freaked out and panicked and after those first two weeks what I realised was that I wanted to help, I wanted to do something to be part of the solution.

“I worked for the NHS as a theatre porter back in my twenties and I was like, ‘I should just offer my services.’

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Dr Roopak Khara, general adult psychiatrist, West London NHS Trust (Rankin)

Dr Roopak Khara, general adult psychiatrist, West London NHS Trust (Rankin)

Dr Roopak Khara, general adult psychiatrist, West London NHS Trust (Rankin)

“I had done some work for Public Health England a year before on a mental health campaign so I just contacted them and said ‘I’m a portrait photographer, this is an incredible moment, all of your staff right across the board are facing something that has never been faced before and we as the nation should be supporting you and what I could do is offer my services all free to take portraits of your incredible teams, from a porter through to a surgeon.’

“I wanted to photograph everybody, because they are all facing this very dangerous, life-threatening thing, on their own, on the front line.”

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Jack Hannay Manikum, 111 call handler for West Midlands Ambulance Service (Rankin)

Jack Hannay Manikum, 111 call handler for West Midlands Ambulance Service (Rankin)

Jack Hannay Manikum, 111 call handler for West Midlands Ambulance Service (Rankin)

The portraits include a cleaner, porter, pharmacist, nurse, midwife and 111 call handler, as well as an ICU consultant, midwife, paramedic and IT worker.

Rankin added: “I wanted to get everybody because everybody is facing this pandemic one on one, the cleaners are cleaning around it, it’s a really big thing and I didn’t want it to just be the surgeons or the people that worked in ICU although we did photograph them too, it was great because it was so diverse.”

To capture the pictures safely, he photographed his subjects from behind plastic sheeting, as well as using social distancing and cleaning procedures.

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Rankin photographing Dr Marc Lyons, ICU Consultant, East Cheshire NHS Trust (NHS England)

Rankin photographing Dr Marc Lyons, ICU Consultant, East Cheshire NHS Trust (NHS England)

Rankin photographing Dr Marc Lyons, ICU Consultant, East Cheshire NHS Trust (NHS England)

He said: “It looked hilarious but I also wanted them to feel comfortable that we were taking this seriously, but everybody was brilliant. I got to talk to them beforehand, and really got to hear their stories so when it came to do the pictures I kind of knew who they were.

“Everybody had stories and one of my favourites was Emma who was an ICU nurse who was dealing with death on a daily basis, and what was sad for her was she was actually happier at the hospital because she felt part of it, and when she went home and she had to deal with it on her own.

“You don’t think about that, you don’t think they are having to go home and deal with this trauma on their own.

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Emma Kelly, critical care nurse, Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Rankin)

Emma Kelly, critical care nurse, Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Rankin)

Emma Kelly, critical care nurse, Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Rankin)

“Everyone had a different story and they were all so upbeat. They were all so positive and the one thing that really was the same with everybody was (saying) ‘I’m not a hero’, not one of them said: ‘I’m a hero’, the humility that they all shared was incredible.”

Discussing how emotional the experience was, he said: “There were a couple of times where I almost cried. It was difficult to talk to people and coming out of isolation myself, this was me out on the road driving on motorways that there were very few people on.

“And the social distancing initially was so strange, I’m sure everybody has gone through that weird feeling, where it feels very rude to be that far apart and you’re supposed to be in tune with people.

“I was really inspired but there were a couple of meetings where I got a bit teary.”

All portraits have been donated by Rankin to the NHS. The full selection of portraits and their stories can be found at www.england.nhs.uk/rankin.

PA Media