Luupe photographer Claudia Paul documented the hard work and resilience of healthcare workers treating COVID patients at Mount Sinai Hospital.
When she took on an assignment to photograph healthcare workers at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Claudia Paul had to quickly adapt to the chaotic environment. It was much different from her usual work, where she has more control over time and creative direction.
Through the chaos, she photographed quiet moments both in and out of the hospital. She paired powerful, emotional portraits with images of healthcare workers working tirelessly behind the scenes.
We spoke with Paul to hear about her experience, and to learn more about the powerful project she just launched.
The Luupe: How did the assignment come about?
Claudia Paul: When my longtime client Mount Sinai called me shortly after the pandemic reached New York, I was certainly nervous to go into a hospital with this invisible threat present. But I believe that many things in life happen for a reason. I needed to do this important work during this historical time. So I took a deep breath and started documenting the hospital’s efforts and workers for their archive and in-house publications.
The Luupe: We can’t imagine what it was like photographing healthcare workers in a New York City hospital during COVID. What was the experience like for you?
Paul: I have met and photographed some incredible healthcare workers, from nurses to doctors to scientists, all working tirelessly to fight the virus. There were many emotional moments that I will never forget. It was heavy at times, but there was also this amazing spirit of resilience and teamwork and everyone looked out for each other. Most of all, my time at the hospital made me realize how important our health is, and that we really need to focus on the important things in life.
The Luupe: What were the challenges of photographing inside a hospital during this time?
Paul: The hospital had very strict security measures in place, so no visitors were allowed at all. I had to be with my client at all times and we had to move fast. I am always very mindful of not taking too much time away from the subjects I photograph. Especially when they are in such a stressful situation. Every minute is so valuable. Oftentimes I wish I had more time with a person or in a specific department. But the situation taught me to be able to work quickly and deal with a lot of different lighting situations.
The Luupe: What did you find most surprising?
Paul: My biggest surprise was how humble the healthcare workers are and how much they appreciated us coming to photograph them and tell their stories. They were so accommodating in the midst of the chaos and most of them told me that they don’t consider themselves heroes. They are just doing what they are meant to do. It’s their calling.
The Luupe: Switching gears a bit, before the pandemic, you started your LOVE IS Project. What do you look for in the couples you photograph?
Paul: The project started out with me searching for some positivity in our often negative world, even before the pandemic. I knew some couples in my circle of friends that are just radiating love and I just found that beautiful and wanted to capture that connection. So the couples I seek out should have this kind of energy between them, a strong bond that shows on the outside when you pay attention. I want to show how beautiful love can be in all variations. Love is Love, no matter how that might look like.
The Luupe: You said that the LOVE IS Project is good for your soul, what do you mean by that?
Paul: A big part of my shoots is to sit down and have a deep conversation with each couple, to find out their story and start connecting with them. I believe that as a photographer you always have to open up yourself in order to truly capture your subjects in an authentic way. Those conversations and the magic that happens when you share a personal experience like that are what makes my soul happy.
I think that the camera gives us the gift of experiencing people in a very personal way, and that’s a huge part of why I love photography.
The Luupe: Let’s talk about your latest series “Faces of Resilience”?
Paul: After my work documenting Covid-19 slowed down a bit, I wanted to find a way to highlight some of these amazing healthcare workers. I proposed my project idea to Mount Sinai Morningside and they loved the idea and helped me identify a wide variety of staff. I set up a photo studio in one of their conference rooms and photographed 32 people in one day. My goal was to capture each person in a very authentic and emotional way. I had them fill out a short questionnaire to learn more about their experience during this time.
Every single person was so open and honest and I loved hearing their stories. We shared tears and laughs and the hardest part of the day was that I couldn’t hug anyone.
The project is now live on my website and Mount Sinai Morningside has worked with me on putting together a small exhibition in their lobby. Currently, I am trying to find a wider audience for it. The frontline workers need to be seen and their voices heard. It would mean a lot to me if they could get featured beyond my own website and social media.
The Luupe: Care to share a story from one of your interviews that was particularly moving to you?
Paul: When Christine walked into our makeshift studio, I immediately loved her energy. She is one of the few female EMTs and I could sense this incredible inner strength from her. Christine told me that she was so excited when she heard about my project because she has the word “Resilience” tattooed on her body. I also found her quote very moving because as New Yorkers we cheered and clapped at 7pm every night but hearing what she went through before her shift ended really got to me.