Local photographer and health and social worker Liam Jones offered a snapshot of those on the frontline of the pandemic by turning his camera towards the selfless work of his colleagues – an essential role that Jones says “takes more than compassion”.
I have worked in the health and social care sector for eight years. Since taking up photography I have wanted to document the people I work with and the selfless work they do. About three years ago I wanted to try my hand at portraiture and some of my colleagues were kind enough to sit for me and let me take their portrait. Unfortunately, this was a project I never continued or developed into something more substantial.
After lockdown I was sent a link to a call out by St Helen’s art agency Heart Of Glass for micro-commissions around the theme of care under a pandemic. This struck a chord with me as I felt the work my colleagues were doing was important in such a critical time. I applied and was lucky enough to be accepted. The funding from this allowed me the impetus and time to produce the work.
The initial idea was to make diptychs made up of portraits of the care workers with a statement about what care means to them. Trying to get carers to put into words on a piece of paper what is simply second nature to them was pretty unsuccessful. The focus of the work then shifted to the protocols or documents that the care homes we work for were using to aid the staff in protecting the residents.
As a carer myself, I have always tried to be reflective in my role within the home and what care means. Just how does someone be a carer? I have always known it boils down to traits such as compassion, a willingness to listen and put yourself in the position of others. However, carrying out the project altered my perceptions somewhat, and this was accentuated by the pandemic. I realised that care takes more than compassion.
We were unfortunate to have some staff not come back to work when the pandemic hit. However, making the pictures and engaging on a different level with those that stayed showed that caring is about determination, strength and resilience. Everyone who continued to come to work to look after our residents personify these characteristics.
Understandably, when the pandemic hit everybody was anxious. The sheer volume of information that was spreading through media and social media affected all staff in the home. People were worried about getting the virus, about taking the virus home to their families or passing it onto the residents. This made the setting where the portraits were taken, the care home I work in, quite a stressful place to be. But that wasn’t the prevailing mood in the actions of workers. The keyworkers part of the series all demonstrated their strength and willingness to put others first by working through these stressful times. I hope that these portraits represent that. In the same instance, that they also represent the toll the height of the pandemic took on people as they carried on with the weight of uncertainty on them.
There has been a lot of talk about appreciation of care workers, and an essential worker status, but I do not feel the status of care workers has entirely changed. In the beginning a lot of media coverage focused on the NHS and rightly so. Only later did it turn to how the pandemic was effecting care homes. If we can judge a care worker’s status on this, then I feel we are only an afterthought. Personally, the Thursday night clap was something I was quite embarrassed by. Each Thursday as I finished work at 8pm and walked down a street where everyone was outside their houses and I felt it was too saccharine; this bulldog national spirit symbolised by a collective clap was really just an empty gesture.
I know the families of our residents appreciate the work we are doing as they give their thanks over the phone when asking about their loved ones. I do not really know how we can judge the wider appreciation of care workers. Is it by the residents, their loved ones or the more general population? If we want to quantify it then we can do that in economic terms, yet care workers remain some of the lowest paid workers within the economy. We have to work long hours doing emotionally demanding labour for minimum wage. As we can see the appreciation is not reflected in financial terms, but as we all say in the profession, you don’t do care for the money.
Care was commissioned by St Helen’s based arts organisation Heart Of Glass.
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