Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Art & Design
4 May 2020updated 18 Aug 2021 10:49am

Theatre: a portrait of the NHS

A photographer is given rare licence to shadow hospital workers and patients in this new book.

By Gerry Brakus

In 2015, the photographer Lewis Khan was invited to become the resident artist at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London. Khan wanted to create work that would be a voice against the privatisation of the NHS, a subject close to his heart.

As the project went on, this political focus became the context to the project and what emerged was a much more universal study of human strength and fragility. Khan’s practice in the hospital was considered and reflective – he would often shadow members of staff for days and weeks at a time before introducing a camera. ​

“When I started working in the hospital,” he says, “I felt like I’d seen the often-mediated hospital images before, usually either superficial or sensationalist. I didn’t want to do either of those things. So my challenge was: how do I work in such a heavily mediated place but do something that feels like my own?”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

“Taking photos, for me, is a way of being tactile with the world – it’s a way of navigating feeling. I initially set out to create an overtly political body of work. Over time this political focus became context to the project, and what emerged was a much more universal study of human strength and fragility.”

Content from our partners
Why ports are the gateway to growth
We are living longer than our predecessors – policy must catch up
Getting Britain building

Khan’s book, Theatre, covers new ground with regards to photography and the healthcare environment. His style, as seen in his portrait photography (Khan has photographed a number of subjects for the New Statesman, among others) is revealing and instinctive. The book captures the intimate realities of daily life within the NHS and offers an insight into its front line. From surgeons, scrub nurses and matrons, to the operating table itself, to some of Europe’s leading oncology consultants and their patients, it also looks at the lesser seen aspects of the hospital — cleaners, visitors, staff rooms, bed bays, curtains and the things left behind.

The original plan was to launch the book in May. “I first began discussions with the publishers, Lost Light Recordings, about the book in 2017, and it’s been the plan for around a year now to release the book in May 2020. Covid meant we had to postpone all that. Then we thought why not just launch as we had planned in a slightly adapted way. The project is a timely celebration of the NHS, so we are launching online imminently with 100 per cent of the profits going to them.”

“Theatre”​ is priced at £50 and is available to order at