Art in Hospitals: YSJ students use photography to engage with mental health and wellbeing

Second year BA Hons Photography student Holly Burton writes about a public engagement project that staged two exhibitions in hospitals during Covid-19.

In 2020-21 second year BA Hons Photography students at York St John University developed two exhibitions that sought to contribute to the local community during the Covid-19 pandemic. They worked in collaboration with the Hospital Arts Team at York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and North East Aquatic Therapy.

The two exhibitions addressed ideas surrounding the human experience of the environment, and in particular explored applications of photographic practice within an arts and healthcare context. The visual artworks focused on the healing attributes surrounding Water, and the seasonal colours of Autumn.

Cath Darling, director of North East Aquatic Therapy, inspired students to engage with the natural element of water and its relationship with the human body, through ideas surrounding folklore, mindfulness and being.

feather foating on endless water

Image by Holly Burton

The photographic exhibition entitled Water, communicates the healing role that water plays in our experience of buoyancy, weightlessness and freedom of movement, exploring the physiological benefits of immersion, the impact to the physical and mental health, and also wellbeing.




Griselda Goldsborough and Elly Ross, based at York Hospital Arts, introduced the relationship between the human experience, the transition of seasons and the passage of time.  The photographic exhibition entitled Autumn was developed specifically for the end-of-life care rooms across York and Scarborough Hospitals, which accommodate patients in their last days of life. The aim of the work was to enhance the environment of that private area of the hospital and to provide a space for mindful reflection for patients, their families and also contribute to the wellbeing of staff who work there on a daily basis.

Oat leaves in autumn

Image Diane Holt

These projects which developed during the pandemic, intended to highlight the multiple benefits of the human contact with the natural environment, and to also bring familiar landscapes and moments of nature into our local hospitals, making a contribution through photography, to the life of our local community.



Holly Burton is a second year BA Hons Photography student.

Follow these links to view the collection of images featured in these exhibitions: