Monday, 27 February 2017

Emily's stay in Hospital. A photo essay.

I’ve written a bit recently about my reluctance to take ‘real’ photos on a smart phone. I know I’m swimming against the tide somewhat – just look at any event anywhere in the world and you will find more people capturing images and footage on their phones than with dedicated cameras. I’ve even heard of news agencies that have sacked their photographers and given reporters iPhones because that’s ‘good enough’ now for photojournalism. Sigh….

But even I can concede that sometimes your cellphone is the only image capturing device you will have on you. This was certainly the case for me recently, when my daughter was in hospital.

Grey Base Hospital Entrance. Samsung S3
Surprising as this may seem, my first thought when she was admitted to hospital wasn’t “great, a photo opportunity”. Far from it. I was more concerned for her as a parent, and photography was the furthest thing from my mind. But, as anyone who may have spent some time in hospital can attest to, there can be an awful lot of waiting around not doing much. And it’s then, as a photographer, that my mind begins to contemplate the photographic possibilities. It’s also then, however, that I realise I’ve only got my phone on me.

Admitted to Barclay Ward. Samsung S3
As a 17 year old, in pain, and in hospital not looking her radiant best, I know my daughter isn’t going to be thrilled when Dad whips out the camera to start taking photos. But I also know (I hope), that when she’s 30, with kids of her own, she might look back and be glad that there are some photos of her when she was 17 and having surgery for the first time. I know I would. So I tried to be as discreet as possible, take as few images as possible, but still try to tell a little story with the images as best I could.

Drip Fed. Samsung S3
I guess this is where shooting with a smartphone does actually come in handy, since people are now so used to everyone having them out at all times. You’re not ‘the photographer’ with a bag load of gear. You’re just Dad, with a cellphone. Non-threatening. Non-evasive. Or so I thought.

Most of the time I got away with snapping the occasional shot here or there. But in one instance, late at night, after her surgery when the nurse was recording Emily’s vitals, I took a couple of shots and the nurse heard the shutter sound that the S3 makes. She literally stopped what she was doing to look at me, and then drilled me about whether she was in the photo or not, and how patient and nurse privacy was important. My wife jumped to my defense to explain that I was a photographer and was just trying to record the moment for our daughter – but I don’t think the nurse was convinced?

Hospital Property. Samsung S3
So maybe this whole ‘everyone takes photos with their phone’ culture is a curse as much as it is a blessing? For a start, I wasn’t taking photos of other patients, I was taking a photo of my daughter. And yes, maybe the nurse did happen to be in the frame, since she was the one interacting with Emily at the time. But I also have photos of my son’s first haircut when he was five – and guess what, the hairdresser just happens to be in some of them. I have photos of Emily’s last day at kindy, with teachers and loads of other children in them. Are we really at the stage where we have to ask each and every person permission to take their photo if they happen to be in an image we are about to take of a family member?

Before Surgery. Samsung S3
I have heard of photographers (specifically men), taking photos of their own children, being confronted at parks and playgrounds by other parents demanding that they stop taking photos because their own children might be in them. This happens a lot in the U.K. for some reason. But it was really the first time I had ever experienced it myself. It certainly made me more wary of taking anymore photos, and fortunately it was towards the end of Emily’s stay in hospital. But it has also left the photo essay feeling a little incomplete, since I didn’t get any photos of her leaving the hospital to round-out the story.

Going for Walkies before Surgery. Samsung S3
After the nurse incident, I tried to find a setting on the S3 that could lower the shutter noise, or better still remove it completely (it’s just for ‘show’ after all). It was only later that I realised that if you turn the volume off on the phone, the shutter sound doesn’t happen either. Doh!

Going into Theatre. Samsung S3
In terms of the images themselves, I wanted to make them look a little less ‘digital’, so I converted them to black and white and added grain (noise) in Photoshop. It gives the images a more ‘filmic’ look to them, especially the slightly blurred ones shot in low-light that were noisy to begin with. In the end, despite them being phone images, I’m actually rather pleased with the way they turned out.

Vital Signs after Surgery. Samsung S3
In the end, I suppose, it is what it is. A ‘record’ of some of Emily’s time spent in hospital when she was 17, and had her first surgery. They are hopefully something she will look back on later in her life and be glad that her Dad bothered to take some photos? We shall see…

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