Wellcome photography prize launched with focus on health

Competition aims to encourage a ‘more diverse view of what research and health means’

A new international photography prize for pictures that tell stories about health, medicine and science has been launched by the charitable foundation Wellcome.

It said the competition aimed to do for health what the Natural History Museum’s wildlife photographer of the year award had done for nature or the Prix Pictet prize had done for environmental and sustainability issues.

The Wellcome photography prize is a revamp and expansion of the Wellcome image awards that ran for 20 years, a long enough period to warrant a re-examination of the prize, said Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome. “We’ve changed, the world has changed and the way health and research works has changed.”

He said he hoped the new prize, as part of Wellcome’s mission to improve health, would encourage “a more diverse view of what research and health means”.

patient being treated at a makeshift eye clinic in India
Susan Smart’s photo of a patient being treated at a makeshift eye clinic in India won the Wellcome image award in 2017. Photograph: Susan Smart/Wellcome

He added: “As a doctor and a scientist, I’ve seen how powerful visual imagery can start conversations, bring complex arguments to life and change the way the world responds to health challenges.”

For many years the prize targeted clinical and imaging experts. The new prize is open to anyone, whether a photographer, photojournalist, artist, researcher or clinical photographer. It is free to enter and comes with a boosted first prize of £15,000.

There will be four new categories in which people can submit images, including one called “hidden worlds”. “That could be the microscopic world,” said Farrar. “But I’m certainly hoping that the hidden world will be taken in a very broad context and can be interpreted in any way a great photographer chooses.”

The other categories are “medicine in focus”, “social perspectives” and a global health theme that will change annually. In 2019 it will be “outbreaks”, something that remains grimly topical with the recent news of a return of the Ebola virus to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Farrar said winning entries “might be based on one person or a family, have a cast of millions or reveal what’s happening in a single cell. What will unite them is the quality of the image and the astonishing stories behind them.”

The deadline for submissions is 17 December. Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in the summer of 2019, and an exhibition of the best photographs will be staged at the Central Saint Martins Lethaby Gallery in London.

People entering the contest will clearly be tackling big, serious and sometimes life-and-death subjects, but Farrar said that did not rule out quirkiness. “A sense of humour through all of this is crucial.”

Farrar will be chair of a judging panel that also consists of Pete Muller, a National Geographic photographer; Joanne Liu, international president of Médecins Sans Frontières; Dr Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Dan M Davis, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester; Emma Bowkett, director of photography at FT Weekend magazine; and Azu Nwagbogu, curator at large for photography at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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