Nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals are all the obvious workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic. But what about the people who document the pandemic for the history books?
Monaya Abel joined the communications team at Salisbury District Hospital in February last year. “During my interview, I said I studied film at uni. When the pandemic hit, they needed someone to capture it on camera, and that’s where I came in,” said Monaya.
The first film Monaya made was of a lecture for upskilling in respiratory care. Later down the line the hospital received more media interest. Newsnight asked to visit and film the scenes at the respiratory care unit, but a large camera crew were too much of a risk, so Monaya was given the job.
“I was really nervous before I went into the Covid ward but I was properly briefed on what we need to capture and it was mainly focusing on our nurses and how PPE has changed. I felt safe because the nurses were looking out for me and they had given me all the appropriate PPE. The nurses are amazing, they are so good with cleanliness and PPE.”
Photographing a pandemic is not like a usual photoshoot. “As a photographer I feel slightly detached yet really connected. I look through a screen and try to capture what is going on, but it is impossible to tell someone’s story in the 30 seconds you get to take the shot.”
It was later down the line when Monaya visited the intensive care unit (ICU). She took one photograph of a nurse named Michelle, peering through the doors of the ICU.
“It is quite strange to walk past doors and catch glimpses of patients because no amount of briefing can prepare you for what it is like down there.
“There is a real sense of community, especially at Salisbury District Hospital. Looking at the latest photographs I have taken, they show that teamwork. I have two doctors in ICU and I have people helping others don PPE.”
Why is it important to capture the pandemic from the front line?
“It is a historical time and I think it is important for the future to capture views from different hospitals.
“Being a photographer at this time is really important. Some people are trying to prove that everything is fake and what I am capturing down there is definitely not fake because it is so intense. Trying to capture that intensity is also important.
“I don’t tell people whether to smile or not because I want to capture what is already there. If they are in the middle of a 12-hour shift, they are not going to be smiling!”
Although Monaya’s photographs look very serious, she tells me all the staff still smile and say hello.
“They are under so much pressure but they do recognise that, behind every number, there is a person. One of the chaplains donned full PPE and took a slice of cake into the patient’s room just to say happy birthday. That was a heart-warming moment.
“It’s been a fantastic opportunity to work at the hospital. We started taking photos of the Covid wards and we have ended with mostly vaccine photographs, which is really comforting in a way.”
Photography by Monaya Abel, Instagram: @m.c.abel