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Even after two years, the continuing consequences of COVID-19 can still be felt everywhere. There should be no trace of nonchalance; yet, since strict restrictions have been lifted in most European countries, a certain lack of concern is spreading. This is occurring, despite the constant increase in numbers of Corona infections, as cases reach all-time highs. We have to learn to live with these contradictions. Meanwhile, countless photography projects have been focussing on the pandemic: some are of a very personal nature; others have a more documentary style. Among these many series, Zoonose, by Cédric Gerbehaye, is particularly noteworthy.

The photo book and the exhibition that followed are the result of a long-term project carried out by the Belgian photographer, over the past two years. Time and again, he returned in particular to La Louvière – a Belgian city of around 80,000 inhabitants. He captured the latent tension in the faces of people on the streets, and the desperation of those affected by the virus and their families. He took his Leica directly into the city's hospitals. In addition to l'Hôpital de Jolimont, he most frequently visited the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU) Tivoli. The photographer was able to participate in the daily lives of the hospital staff from the perspective of an outside observer. The three waves of the pandemic made it impossible for the personnel to get any real rest, pushing each one of them to the limit.

For a number of days, Gerbehaye set up a studio on the eleventh floor of the hospital, where he invited the workers to come and be photographed: the aim was to create intimate moments, which would allow a glimpse behind the masks. These portraits reveal the incredible degree of exhaustion and desperation; yet, at the same time, each one represents a moment of consolation, perception and connection. With his powerful black and white images, Gerbehaye makes reference to iconic Christian motifs – scenes from the hectic, everyday life at the clinic are condensed into moments of stillness, where the suffering of Christ appears in contemporary form. Modelled on pictures of saints and martyrs, the portraits of the hospital staff strike the viewer with strong emotional force.

Zoonose is an intense series – one which clearly proves that, behind all the statistics and media reports about the pandemic, there are individual people and stories. The photo book does not include any shock pictures; yet, it offers harrowing glimpses into the everyday life of hospital staff. The photographer's empathic eye gives us profound insight into a subject that society will be dealing with for some time to come. His series has already made history. The increasing numbers of current COVID cases will continue to make challenging demands on medical personnel into the future. Consequently, this book can certainly be seen as an appeal for a sense of responsibility and solidarity. (Ulrich Rüter)

Cédric Gerbehaye, Zoonose
With texts by Caroline Lamarche.
160 pages, 74 black and white images, 19 x 26.5 cm.
French/English. Le Bec en l´air éditions

Find out more about his project in LFI Magazine 3/2022.

All pictures on this page: © Cédric Gerbehaye
Equipment: Leica Q2 and Leica SL2, APO-Summicron-SL 1:2/50mm Asph.
Red Cross workers leave a cabin which serves to triage patients, before they are taken to the various departments at St Peter's University Hospital in Brussels
A calming moment of respite for Caroline and Yasmina, who had come to reinforce the Intensive Care Unit at Ambroise Paré Hospital in Mons
Yves, head doctor at the CHU Tivoli Intensive Care Unit, has just removed his mask, after spending long hours in the COVID ward
A nurse from the CHU Tivoli Intensive Care Unit is consoled by a colleague, following the death of a patient due to COVID-19 complications
Melanie, medical imaging technologist, CHU Tivoli
A man and a woman wait in front of the CHU Tivoli
Students, during the break, at the Athénée Provincial in La Louvière
Intervention by a mobile emergency service and a midwife from the CHU Tivoli
Emilie, assistant doctor, emergency services, CHU Tivoli
Hatice, logistics assistant, emergency services, CHU Tivoli
The tattooed arm of Alain, a handler at the CHU Tivoli
© Stephan Vanfleteren

Cédric Gerbehaye

was born in Belgium in 1977. He is a documentary photographer, teacher and founding member of the MAPS Agency. He is the author of Congo in Limbo, Land of Cush, Sète #13 and D'entre eux, which are all published by Le Bec en l'air. His work has received multiple international awards, including the Olivier Rebbot Award of the Overseas Press Club of America; a World Press Photo; and the Amnesty International Media Award. His pictures have been widely exhibited and are included in numerous museum collections. Gerbehaye lives in Brussels.

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