British photographer Lewis Khan has won recognition with images created during a four-year artist residency at two London hospitals. Now, with the public’s attention focused on the NHS more than ever before, his series Theatre has become even more relevant. He explains what motivated him to create this “study of human strength and fragility”.
Describe yourself as a photographer
I’m a photographic artist from London, working with stills and moving images. My work is largely portrait based and is a study of emotion, relationships and identity.
‘Diptych 1’ from the series Theatre by Lewis Khan
What inspired you to create the series Theatre?
In 2015, I was invited by the arts charity CW+ to undertake an artist residency at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London. I had previously worked on a commission for CW+ taking portraits of people local to the area that were then exhibited in the hospital, and on the back of this they invited me to come in and make work about the hospital itself. What emerged was a study of human strength and fragility.
How did it feel to enter into the world of the theatre?
Working in the hospital definitely sparks a lot of existential thought about life, health, your body, your mind. The protections of day-to-day life are peeled back, and elements like vulnerability and care are encountered viscerally. This was a super-powerful experience, and it’s why I’ve kept coming back to the concept of strength and fragility as a means to frame the work. Both of these things were felt so strongly across all walks of life and status that they’re what I have used to interpret the human experience.
‘Diptych 2’ from the series Theatre by Lewis Khan
Your series juxtaposes the clinical with the sentimental. Why?
The immediate themes in the project are mortality and wellbeing, strength and fragility, and the clinical and the sentimental. These are what I mentally distilled the hospital and its environment down to. The hospital is a very juxtaposed place and whatever extreme might exist is balanced with an opposite extreme right alongside it, so this idea of themes in dichotomy made sense to me – both when shooting and when putting images together into an edit.
Has the coronavirus pandemic given Theatre extra poignancy, even though the series was photographed beforehand?
The pandemic has reminded everyone just how important the NHS and those that work in it are, so people have probably been extra receptive to a body of work that celebrates those people and that institution.
‘Diptych 3’ from the series Theatre by Lewis Khan
Theatre Second Edition is available as a photo book from The Lost Light Recordings
The RPS Journal is available exclusively to members. Join us to receive our award-winning magazine and read more inspiring features. Explore full member benefits here