Rankin’s portraits for NHS England anniversary reveal the personalities behind the PPE

“They truly are heroes, though none would ever say so,” comments the photographer, who reveals his teenage job in a hospital inspired the pro bono series.

29 June 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read


Rankin has captured a series of 12 portraits of NHS staff in a pro bono project celebrating the health service’s 72nd anniversary this week. The photographs will be shown on billboards, bus stops and other advertising locations around the UK including Piccadilly Circus, and published alongside intimate written accounts detailing the experiences of each NHS employee. The stripped-back shots show a range of frontline workers against plain backgrounds, without face masks, aiming to show the personalities behind the PPE. This process, of course, entailed building a safe environment for the shoot (which can be seen in a behind-the-scenes image below) but was vital to the photographer’s creative approach.

“It was important for me to be able to see my subjects’ eyes,” Rankin tells It’s Nice That. “I think so many brilliant photographs have been taken of people in their PPE, showing the urgency and difficulty they were working under. I especially like the work of Giles Duley, his photographs are exceptional. But these were more about seeing the person, the eyes. I was nervous they were maybe too simple, but I really think you can see what characters they are. Meeting all of them at that time was incredibly humbling.”

Like many creatives during the pandemic, Rankin came up with the idea for the series in response to feeling “powerless” and wanting to show support for frontline workers putting their lives at risk. He reveals that between school and art college, he worked as a theatre porter at Edgware hospital. “It was a life-defining time for me,” he says. “Having grown up in quite a closeted family environment, I got to see what real life was like. I met and worked with some incredible people. They were like a family. Hard-working, committed, passionate and caring, they always inspired me. That period made me want to do this series. To try to do my bit, if even in such a small way.”

Having worked with Public Health England in 2019 on the Every Mind Matters campaign (alongside writer Richard Curtis), the photographer got back in touch to pitch the idea of shooting (unpaid) a collection of portraits of NHS workers. “As a portrait photographer, I believe it is my job to document the people and the times that we live in. Whether it’s celebrities or nurses, I’m always looking for the humanity of my subjects. For me personally, the images are really about the wonderful, committed and humble people that I met. They truly are heroes, though none would ever say so.” Among the subjects are a paramedic, a call handler, a hospital porter, a district nurse, a Covid-ward nurse and an ICU consultant.

Rankin says he has donated the work “in perpetuity to the NHS, as a legacy of this time. Hopefully the images embody some of their incredible work”. The NHS marks its 72nd anniversary on 5 July.

Earlier this month, British Vogue revealed its three July 2020 covers featuring portraits of front line workers photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth.

In November 2019, It’s Nice That met Rankin for our long-form interview series In Conversation, which you can read here.

GalleryRankin Creative for NHS England

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Rankin Creative for NHS England

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent the last ten years working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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