Health is a universal topic, no matter your age or demographic. Its impact is transformative, and its challenges can mean life or death. The Wellcome Photography Prize, now open for entry, aims to take this familiar theme and explore it through visual language. While international questions of health, science, and medicine can often feel abstract, photography has the ability to visualise them, provoking a direct and intimate awareness of the issues that Wellcome supports.
Wellcome is a global charitable foundation that funds over 14,000 people in 70 countries, supporting scientists and researchers in their work to address contemporary health challenges internationally. Initiated in 1992, and originally aimed at clinical imaging specialists, its annual Photography Prize relaunched last year. The new incarnation aims to celebrate contemporary visual narratives about health and science and bring them to a wider audience, raising questions and awareness through powerful and personal visual storytelling.
Last year’s edition of the prize explored Outbreaks — capturing the impact of diseases as they spread. This year’s central theme is Mental Health, inviting entrants to interrogate the issues that surround not only physical, but psychological health, and to challenge the stigma and reflect on its ramifications. “At Wellcome, we want to help shape the future of mental health research,” says Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome and chair of the judging panel. “There is no single narrative that describes this aspect of life that affects one in four people worldwide. Whether you are a professional, student or amateur photographer, the prize presents an incredible opportunity to dispel the visual clichés of mental health that help no one.”
Entrants to the competition are encouraged to interpret the brief as widely as possible and explore the full breadth of the topic, whether that be an artistic rendering of a personal experience, or reportage-style documentation of a social crisis. “A winning image may be based on an individual’s lived experience of health systems or depict how our health connects with the health of our planet,” Farrar explains. The connecting thread is the stories behind these experiences and phenomena, the narratives that photography is so uniquely able to explore. Though Mental Health is this a new theme for this year, and has also been included as a series category – allowing for artists to explore the deeper context and stories of their subjects in greater detail – the Prize also consists of other categories: Social Perspectives, Hidden Worlds, and Medicine in Focus, briefs for which can be found here.
The winning entry will receive £15,000, and category winners will each receive £1,250 and inclusion in a public exhibition. “Winning the 2019 Wellcome Photography Prize has been an incredibly humbling and positive experience. To have my work recognised and supported by such an esteemed Trust has helped validate the years of work I put into this project,” says Erin Lefevre, who received last year’s award for her project ‘Liam’s World’, an intimate and collaborative exploration of her brother Liam’s experience with autism. “The most impactful aspect of winning the 2019 Wellcome Photography Prize was the response that stemmed from having Liam’s story shared on such an immense, international platform,” she continues. “I’m grateful to the Wellcome Photography Prize for helping to promote a more faithful portrayal of living with autism, and for giving me the financial freedom to pursue stories that far too often go untold.”
Free to enter, this year’s prize will build on the impact of last year’s competition and continue Wellcome’s mission to bring questions about health, medicine and science to as broad an audience as possible. “Good photography can capture empathy, can capture caring. The fears, the frustrations. By showing that Wellcome and science care about these things, I think that expression of caring and listening is crucial,” says Heidi Larson, Director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and one of last year’s judges.
Photography is unique in its ability to record and translate profound emotional experiences. Images are immediate, and arresting, in ways that written journalism is sometimes not, and it is this potent ability that the Wellcome Photography Prize seeks to reward.