Photoworks: Hi Lewis, can you tell us about your project Love Time with the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital? How did you explain the project and approach the staff and visitors when making the work?
Lewis Khan: I was invited to do an artist residency by the hospital’s arts charity: CW+, and to spend time making work within the hospital across a range of departments and areas.
The body of work that resulted, entitled Love Time explores the concepts of strength and fragility within human beings, whilst having the deconstruction through privatisation of the NHS (National Health Service) as an over-arching context for the climate in which the project has been made.
CW+ would arrange access to one department at a time and generally I would start off in each department by shadowing a particular member or members of staff. At first I would spend time going into the hospital without my camera. Hospitals are very complex places and it was important for me to take time to try and understand the environment, the people, and then in turn what the work was about. Once I started bringing my camera with me, I worked very slowly. I tried to go along with the flow of the hospital and, where it felt right, I might ask somebody if I could take their picture, or photograph some of their things or something around them.
My idea of what the work was about changed a fair bit over the course of the residency so at various times my explanation of what I was doing changed, but pretty much as a baseline it was that I was doing a residency in the hospital and that I was taking photos that celebrated the work that happens there. I also explained that I was hoping to exhibit/ publish the photos at the end, most people said yes.
PW: What inspired the title of the series?
LK: The title comes from a particular photo from the series. That photo is of a patient I met in the Cancer ward at the hospital – in the photo she is showing her finger nails which have white bands going across them. One of the side effects of chemo therapy is that your nails temporarily stop growing, so as you go through bouts of the treatment your nails go through this stop/start process of growing, resulting in a band each time.
I only noticed afterwards that her t-shirt says ‘love time’ on it, which I thought was a really fitting title for the project – on the one hand love time is what you go to hospital for – some care, some love, and on the other hand love time is a straight instruction, it’s an order, it’s telling you to love time!! This patient sadly died shortly after this photo was taken.
PW: What was most challenging about working on the project? How do you establish relationships and trust with your sitters?
LK: The relationships and trust came from spending a lot of time observing in the hospital prior to taking any photos. It was a lot about making myself comfortable in that environment. I felt that only once I was comfortable would I then be able to approach people and make them feel comfortable enough to have their photo taken. People experience a huge range of emotions in hospital but often they are stressed and very often bored – in some cases I think a chat with someone completely unrelated to everything going on was a little break for them. I was very sensitive about reading situations and making decisions about who to approach, and when – it’s a slow and intuitive process really.
Definitely the most challenging thing about working on this project was the emotional weight I experienced from working so closely with some of the medical teams. It was really eye opening actually to see just how affecting the job can be, even for top professionals, and also how much of the work that they do is psychological as well as physical.
PW: What’s next for the series, and for you?
LK: So, I’ve finished shooting in the hospital now, more or less, and I’m starting to put the series together and trying to get it published / exhibited / out there, which is another project in itself.. And myself, recently, I’ve been really enjoying the change of shooting outside of the hospital environment and making work based around a looser web as opposed to a more linear narrative. I’m exploring interests and working on new projects.
See here for more of Lewis Khan’s work.