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Faces from the frontlines: Photographer at hospital captures COVID-19 ‘angels’

Micha Brikman sets up studio outside coronavirus ward to document health workers before and after their shifts; also lingers on behind-the-scenes workers, medical clowns

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

  • A nurse in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A nurse in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • Staff members at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    Staff members at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • Staff members at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    Staff members at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A medical clown at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A medical clown at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A nurse in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A nurse in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A nurse in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A nurse in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A medical staff member in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A medical staff member in Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center's coronavirus ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
    A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy Micha Brikman)
  • A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus. (courtesy, Micha Brikman)
    A staff member at Haifa's Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus. (courtesy, Micha Brikman)

Sometimes it takes an outsider to understand what it looks like from the inside.

Photographer Micha Brikman knew that the only way to really see what hospital workers experienced during the coronavirus pandemic was to show it in images.

He spent several weeks at Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center in the spring during the first lockdown, documenting less-seen staffers, including cafeteria workers, seamstresses endlessly sewing uniforms and medical clowns looking for laughs in the children’s ward.

“The ones who are less in focus, they’re the supporting angels,” said Brikman, a documentary photographer by trade.

A nurse in Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center’s coronavirus ward; after finishing a shift (left); a shower following a shift (top right) and before entering the ward (Courtesy Micha Brikman)

The first project drew so much attention that Brikman returned to Bnai Zion for a second round — this time just outside the coronavirus ward.

He set up a portrait studio outside the sterile dressing room, photographing each medical staff member before they entered the ward for a shift, and hours later when they emerged, after taking off their protective layers and showering.

A staff member at Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center during the 2020 coronavirus; before a shift (left); after a shift (top right) and before entering the ward (bottom right) (Courtesy Micha Brikman)

“It’s a metamorphosis series of the medical staff, it’s pretty crazy to see it,” said Brikman.

Head nurse Aya Eshel said she raised her eyebrows when she heard about the project, worrying that it would disrupt the intensive work flow.

“I didn’t want to have to deal with something so parenthetical to what we’re doing,” said Eshel, who worked in the coronavirus ward when it first opened in mid-March until it closed in May, and again since its reopening in July with the virus resurgence.

Head nurse Aya Eshel in Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center’s coronavirus ward after a shift (left); before a shift (top right) and before entering the coronavirus ward (bottom right) (Courtesy Micha Brikman)

She found, however, that Brikman was easy to have around.

It took time to arrange the portraits, but they turned out to be a bonus for the staff who felt they were being seen, said Eshel.

A nurse in Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center’s coronavirus ward after a shift (left); post-shower after a shift (top right) and before entering the ward (bottom right) (Courtesy Micha Brikman)

“He really captured the atmosphere of what it’s like, the pressure, the huge number of sick people,” said Eshel.

Now Brikman is thinking about his next project, which he hopes will be inside the COVID-19 ward.

A medical staff member in Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center’s coronavirus ward before a shift (left) and before entering the ward (right) (Courtesy Micha Brikman)

For now, he’s pleased that his portraits will be exhibited in the annual Local Testimony photojournalist exhibition, creating a concrete reminder of what is taking place right now.

“This is the reality we’re going through,” said Brikman. “It will be here to remind us in a few years’ time of what happened.”

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