Fern Galloway Medicine and Ethics

As part of the Medicine and Photography Student Selected Component at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry (2012), Fern Galloway explored an emergency department through the medium of photography.

‘This is my story: in it I am the emergency department nurse. I am the medical student. I am the photographer.

I primarily sought to present the emergency department in two shifts, to show what I see when I am at work. I wanted to take away the common understanding people have of a hospital environment and show them equipment, scenes and situations unaltered — raw and elemental.

The images are devoid of human presence. The absence of human beings in a hospital environment gives an eerie illusion, posing questions of time; what came before the photograph? What happened after? Without depicting humans the viewer has an emotional response that is raw, not blurred with empathy for the person pictured. Doctors, nurses, and to an extent patients are the common public image of the healthcare profession, in these images the camera simply records ‘backstage': a window through which an uncommon world can be viewed.

It is the reflection on my relationship with medicine and the environment in which I work that takes these images from the aesthetic to the ethical. Medicine is full of ethics, a parallel strongly allied to photography. It was important for me to engage with this link… it got me thinking about my practice and how often I stop, reflect and ethically dissect a situation. I work from a position of ‘Do no harm’ but photography got me asking why. What is harm and what is good? What defines the boundaries? Who decides them and why do they have the right? Has my practice become a series of innate and reflexive decisions?’

Fern Galloway