Bermondsey nurse’s photographs of ‘horror story’ Covid-19 frontline going on display

A Bermondsey nurse’s photographs of her time on the “horror story” frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic are going on display at the London Photo Show in Southwark.

Hannah Deller is a nurse at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. When Covid hit she transformed her paediatric ward into an adult coronavirus ward, specialising in end-of-life care.

Photography-trained Hannah decided to start taking pictures of the scenes around her – both in the hospital and on the street – as a way of coping with the stress of dealing with levels of death she had never seen before.

She said: “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.”

After that she carried on taking photos of the strange things she saw around her. She added: “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.”

As for many NHS staff working every day with patients who were very sick with Covid-19, the pandemic has been a time of huge stress and anxiety for Hannah.

“It was a very difficult time emotionally,” she said. “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.”

Hannah said that her photography allowed her to capture some of the uplifting moments she experienced during the crisis.

“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.”

Hannah’s photos are going on display at the London Photo Show at the Bargehouse Gallery in the Oxo Tower Wharf on the South Bank, from November 11-14 2021. Entrance is free and no tickets are needed.

The London Photo Show combines works by amateur and professional photographers. This year photos from across the pandemic will go on display.

To learn more about the exhibition click here.