Portraits of the pandemic

Elson Musenga – Interim foundation doctor

Midway through the pandemic I was commissioned by Edinburgh University to make a series of portraits of 13 individuals that work in or with the university. Each of them was chosen to represent the broad range of people at the university who in one way or another are playing their part to help combat the virus. Their roles are diverse from stores manager to government advisor to intensive care consultant.

Devi Sridhar – Chair of Global Public Health and Director of the Global Health Governance Programme

After some test shooting and much discussion on safety between myself and the university co-ordinators Jen Durkin and Jen Middleton we established a straightforward style that seemed to fit the subject.

I photographed each of them individually in my studio, a bit of a challenge when we had to stay well apart. Trying to relax your subject and adjust a camera is not so easy when your mask is steaming up your glasses and muffling your words. Despite these inconveniences the project was hugely rewarding creatively as well as a being an interesting window into each of their worlds. In the course of shooting I received several personalised mini TED talks on what they were working on. The biggest thing I learned from talking to them is that despite their best efforts just how hard it is to know what the future holds when you’re dealing with a pathogen that’s so new without years worth of data to analyse.

Kenneth Baillie – Intensive Care Consultant a Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Anaesthesia & Critical Care at the Roslin Institute.
Gwenetta Curry – Lecturer of Race, Ethnicity, and Health in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Kev Dhaliwal, Project lead for STOPCOVID
Derek Mills, Stores Manager, IGMM

Large scale prints have been produced of some of the images. These are hung at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh inside the Chancellor’s building foyer. The full collection is to be displayed in the Elsie Ingles lounge soon. You can see all the portraits and read more about each of the subjects on the university blog here.

Hibs Football teams

I was commissioned to shoot the mens Hibs team to showcase their new lineup wearing home and away strips for their newly designed website put together by the agency Whitespace. Adam Wilson the designer from the agency art directed for the two 1/2 days of shooting at the Hibs grounds. They wanted to make use of some stylised lighting that used the team colours so I spent time testing beforehand so we were good to go on the day.

Adam shot some behind the scenes footage. Click on the image below to view.

It was then rightly decided to do the same for the women’s team. Again over two 1/2 days, this time in my studio. Fortunately I’d made a detailed plan of all the lighting and settings from the previous shoot which meant I could exactly match the earlier shots, something I’m always encouraging students to do.

Edinburgh Seven

Before lockdown I was commissioned by Edinburgh University medical school to reinterpret Rembrant’s painting, ‘The anatomy lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’. The university owns a copy painting of this that hangs by their anatomy museum just where we made this photograph. In our version the characters were replaced by all female medical students who represent the very first women students in Britain that were allowed to study medicine 150 years ago at Edinburgh University. Sad to say the women back then were not granted the honour of graduating, something the university rectified at a honorary degree ceremony for them last year.

The original Rembrandt inspiration – The anatomy lesson of Dr. Tulp from 1632

It was a real honour to be involved with a project to help redress this imbalance, something that we need to be ever mindful of when we still live in a world where women’s rights are still being decided by groups of men.

There was a tricky balance to strike to shoot this. I’d have ideally spent several hours on it fine tuning lighting, angles and outfits. But of course we couldn’t take up the space and time of everyone involved indefinitely so the image was pretty much one hour from start to finish. We set it up just outside the anatomy museum next to a giant elephant skeleton which is just out of shot. The robes and props we had were a far cry from perfect but I love the challenge of making the best of what you’ve got. I guess the trickiest part was the fact that the arm was 6 inches short and should have been a left hand, not a right! As well as that I discovered just how many liberties Rembrandt had taken to foreshorten the cadaver and raising the figures at the back, something we had to work around. Several people have since commented on the cadaver looking like Mark Zukerberg and much as I’d like to say it was all an intentional symbol it’s wasn’t!

Trying to overcome some of the technical problems in the recreation.
The women medical students receiving the doctorates last year on behalf of the original Edinburgh seven.

I prefer not to do unnecessary retouching and there’s not much my final version other than colour, texture and grading. I wanted it to look like the Rembrandt but I didn’t want it to be overly stylised, otherwise the key message of the image could get obscured.

There’s an article here in The Scotsman that covers more on the original Edinburgh Seven.

I’ve photographed at this same location many times for the university in the past but also on a personal project.

An image I made at the same location, inspired by the same Rembrandt painting years earlier as part of my Conemen project

This image was also inspired by the Rembrandt painting so it’s pretty ironic I was asked to do this again byJen Middleton from the university when she was unaware of my earlier Conemen version. That first shoot was memorable for having the affable Prof. Gordon Findlater who was at the time head of department show us round. He stayed late so we could shoot and gave us a personal tour of the spooky anatomy museum upstairs which included the skeleton and life mask of body snatcher William Burke, from ‘Burke and Hare’ infamy. It’s generally closed to the public.

I love to work on projects like this but it’s not too often they come up. If anyone out there is inspired and would like me to shoot a project for them, whether it be for a client or just personally I’d love to be kept in mind. When projects are interesting enough the budget is of secondary concern for me.

If you want to see more new work like this then my Instagram feed is the place to see it.