Cleveland, Ohio-based Photographer Angelo Merendino’s most recent project honors the selfless nature of the nursing profession by sharing the stories of nurses from various hospitals in Cleveland. The portrait project, titled “A Privilege Unlike Anything Else,” will be released just in time for National Nurses Month in May.
Throughout the month, a selection of portraits from the series will be exhibited at the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, The MetroHealth System, and The Cleveland Clinic. Each photograph will be framed and hung in a place of prominence, honoring the nurses who have put their lives on the line to help others during a global pandemic. The images will be displayed with their responses to the question, “Why did you become a nurse?”
Angelo’s first wife, Jen, passed in 2011 after a battle with breast cancer. They had been married for five months when Jen was diagnosed, and Jen’s death was less than four years later, at the age of 40. During her treatment, they spent a lot of time in hospitals, and extended stays of 12-15 days were not uncommon, so the hospital staff became like a second family.
We saw them more than anyone else, and we formed a special bond, an “Us vs. Cancer” mentality. Whether they were relentlessly following up with doctors on our behalf, tracking down extra pillows and warm blankets, or just lending an ear, our nurses became our lifeline. Day after day, our nurses were the glue that held everything together.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, front-line workers have had a particularly rough go of it. Angelo read a lot of articles about the challenges they were facing, both physically and emotionally. One story, in particular, surprised him.
It was an article about people yelling at nurses who were standing outside of a hospital in solidarity with their fellow nurses. I couldn’t wrap my head around how people could yell at nurses who were pleading with people to wear a mask during a pandemic. These nurses put themselves in danger every time they went to work, and people were berating them over wearing a mask.
This story stuck with him because it reminded Angelo of the selfless acts of all the nurses he met during his hospital stays during his wife’s treatment.
While the entire medical staff was incredible, it was often the nurses who saved the day. They were the glue that held everything together. The more I thought about the nurses I’ve met, the more I thought about the strength it takes to be in such a demanding profession. I wanted to do something to express my gratitude for people who are brave enough to be a nurse.
The idea began as a personal project rooted in his appreciation for the nurses who lifted him and his wife up in their time of need. However, it took on a life of its own when he began reaching out to hospitals to share the idea.
All three hospitals [University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, The MetroHealth System, and The Cleveland Clinic] were interested in the project. I spent a few months doing work that had very little to do with a camera – coming up with a proposal, creating a budget, following up with my contacts at the hospitals, and so on. Ultimately I received funding from two hospitals, a private donation, and funding from a pharmaceutical company I have worked with in the past.
Once ready to begin shooting, Angelo decided not to hire a stylist or assistant. At first, he just wanted to keep it intimate to reduce the risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also realized that he spent a lot of time talking to the nurses, and a larger crew wouldn’t have been conducive to the heartfelt conversations that he was able to share with them.
The thing that stood out the most to me was that not one of the nurses came in with an ego. They were all kind, humble and compassionate. Many of the nurses chose this profession after having had a personal experience with a nurse at some point in their life — such as a parent or child receiving care at a hospital.
These are confident and extremely capable people, but the work they do isn’t about them when it comes down to it. It’s about the people they help and the privilege they feel in caring for and supporting others during some of life’s darkest moments. The passion of each nurse inspired me to think deeper about how I am living my life.
See more of Angelo’s work at angelomerendino.com
Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!