Category: First Thursdays — Published:

As the city prepares to open its doors once again, a few of our neighbouring East End spaces are taking the opportunity to share outdoor and online work that reflects upon identity, belonging and the tumultuous year we’ve all endured.

For the April edition of First Thursdays online, we’re partnering with AUTOGRAPH and the NHS trust, Barts Health, both of which spotlight photography that is deeply personal yet universally relatable.

A&E Heroes photography, Courtesy of Piotr Peksa.


From now until 15 April, AUTOGRAPH presents #HackneyIsHome, a collaborative project which lights up the Old Street Digital Canvas with new artworks by young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Eight artists have been working closely with the gallery and the youth media organisation, Mouth That Roars, taking part in workshops and training that lead to a creative media qualification. Inspired by the different stories of people who have come to Hackney, the group has spent the past six months making photography and video reflecting on identity and belonging in the borough, asking: what makes Hackney home?

The #HackneyIsHome project displayed on the Old Street Digital Canvas. Courtesy Autograph, London.

For the Digital Canvas, the #HackneyIsHome artists wanted to share messages of hope and resilience, celebrating Hackney and the many people who proudly call it home. You can read and see more about the project on AUTOGRAPH’s blog and via the #HackneyIsHome exhibition webpage.

Alongside the project, AUTOGRAPH has also launched a Call for Photographs, inviting borough residents to submit their images responding to the theme ‘Hackney is Home’. The gallery will choose their favourite photographs to feature on their website and social media, so be sure to submit your work before their 15 April deadline!

From the #HackneyIsHome project. Courtesy Autograph, London.

Royal London Hospital/Barts Health

For the first time, this month’s First Thursdays welcomes not a gallery or museum, but the NHS! The incredible folks at Barts Health have been collecting the photographs of two unlikely artists, Tania Olive Collyer, a paediatric nurse, and Piotr Peksa, a security officer, both of which took photographs of staff working during the height of the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic at the Royal London Hospital. Tania and Peter worked in the hospital throughout the pandemic and took photos during their free time.

Tania Olive Collyer, Proning – 24.01.21 – 24, Courtesy of the artist.

Tania’s story

One month before the pandemic, Tania had left her role as a paediatric emergency nurse in London to live in Amritapuri, an Ashram in India. After seeing events unravel on the news, Tania returned to The Royal London Hospital last March and worked as a nurse on the purpose-built critical care units on 14th and 15th floors, named The Queen Elizabeth Unit.

Speaking about her time here, Tania said: “The Royal London Hospital is unique, in that the 14th and 15th floors were empty until the pandemic; the wards were purposely opened to treat patients critically ill with Covid-19. Every shift I would walk onto the unit and be blown away by my surroundings, rows of unconscious patients, dependent on us to keep them alive. I wanted to capture this moment in time by using my photography skills. Taking photos has been cathartic for me. To be there as an observer was such a different experience. To witness staff caring for the patient’s is such a beautiful thing to see; to watch them holding their hands and washing their hair. It’s the small things.”

You can view all of Tania’s photos of The Queen Elizabeth Unit in the hospital’s photo gallery. Further work by the artist can be viewed on her website.

Tania Olive Collyer, Mouthcare at the bedside – 0752, Courtesy of the artist.

Pitor’s story

Working full time as a security officer at The Royal London Hospital, Pitor, also known as Peter Pexington, is an exceptionally talented amateur photographer and filmmaker. The photographs in this latest series, A&E Heroes, were taken as a gift to the frontline heroes to showcase how hard they’ve been working.

Speaking about the series, Peter commented: “I had this project of A&E Heroes portrait photography in my mind for a couple of months already, and I finally said to myself I have to go for it. So many high-minded people, companies, and restaurants delivered free food to NHS employees during the difficult time of the Covid-19 pandemic. I also decided to deliver to those heroes something from me. This is how my portrait photography project was created. The photography project was a very good experience for me, and I hope it was a good experience for all of the nurses, doctors, porters, domestic, receptionists, security and paramedics – everyone who dedicated their lives to helping us. I just want to say a big thank you for your hard work.”

Check out the full project and more of Pitor’s work on his Instagram.

On the first Thursday of every month, over 150 galleries in east London come together and run free events, exhibitions, talks and private views during a special late opening or online celebration. Find out more about First Thursdays here.