When it came to choosing the winner of our annual Power of Photography Awards, there was a clear winner – a truly impressive individual and image maker who was working right at the front line of one of the biggest emergencies this country has ever seen.

Without a doubt, Covid-19, and its impact on us all, is the defining story of our generation. But it’s also one that traditional journalists and photographers haven’t always had front-line access to. As such, we’ve seen some remarkable imagery coming from those working within it.

With unique access – and a special viewpoint from which to capture their shots – medical staff have provided an at-times unflinching look behind the scenes of an all-encompassing global tragedy. One photographer whose work stood out for a variety of reasons is that of Nick Mason.

ICU Sister Nicola Rogers wearing the reusable face masks that became increasingly common during the first wave.

When not taking photographs, he has been working for the past 15 years as a consultant in intensive care medicine at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, a few miles from his home in Cardiff. The hospital serves the socially deprived former South Wales coal-mining communities of Caerphilly, Torfaen and Blaneau Gwent.

It has fewer intensive care beds for the size of the population that it serves than anywhere else in the UK. Against this backdrop, the hospital was confronted by one of the highest infection rates outside of London. By mid-April 2020, the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) was running close to 300% of normal capacity. A ban on all visitors to the hospital – including journalists – meant that seeing behind the scenes was difficult.

Beds between beds. At one point the Royal Gwent ICU was operating at around 300% of its normal capacity, necessitating placing beds in between the normal bed spaces to create room for ventilated patients.

Nick picked up his camera and through his lens we get a distressing but important record of what life was like at the time. He wrote, ‘With so much that I could photograph, I decided early on that documenting a typical patient’s journey through ICU from admission to discharge and their ongoing rehabilitation on the ward would form the principal framework for the project.’

This is obviously a sensitive subject, and it’s important to remember that each and every person featured in Nick’s images is a real human with friends and loved ones who might see the coverage. But the impact that images like this have on the rest of us is to powerfully remind us just why we are making all of the personal and economic sacrifices that we have had to endure over the past year.

Suspended between life and death, a patient with severe respiratory failure from COVID-19 is ventilated in the prone position.

Nick says, ‘For all the interest in my photographs on national television, and in the press, plus all the talk of exhibitions and books, the greatest compliments of all have been to hear those colleagues say, “You have told our story.”

’There really could only be one choice of subject matter for our Power of Photography award this year, and it is with great gratitude that we give it to Nick Mason for his incredible work both behind the lens and in his day job. An article written by Nick Mason, taking an in-depth look at his photography from the hospital where he worked during Covid-19’s first peak was featured in AP 7 November 2020. You can see more of Nick’s work here.

About Nick
Nick Mason is a consultant at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, but in his spare time is a keen amateur photographer. He is based in Cardiff and has been taking pictures since he was a teenager. He shoots mainly with Olympus cameras and lenses, which were used for his photographs from the ICU.

This award is kindly sponsored by Grays of Westminster