Images exploring pain of depression win Wellcome photography prize

Arseniy Neskhodimov named overall winner of photography prize for his series Prozac

A series of powerful images that explore the pain of depression but also how to cope with it has been named as the winning entry for one of the UK’s leading photography prizes.

Arseniy Neskhodimov was on Wednesday named the winner of the Wellcome photography prize 2020, a competition to reward pictures that show the importance of health in society. This year there was a particular focus on mental health – an issue, said organisers, that had become even more urgent because of coronavirus.

Neskhodimov, who was born in Uzbekistan and lives in Moscow, is the overall winner for a series of five images titled Prozac.

The photographs are self-portrait stories. They include him buried under a pile of Christmas trees, cowering below a table tennis table and taking a swim in the sea at Sharm el-Sheikh. The images, he said, “are a kind of therapy that help me fight off the attacks of despair and loss of meaning, especially in this difficult pandemic time”.

Self-portrait as a beach-goer
Self-portrait as a Beach Goer. Photograph: Arseniy Neskhodimov

“I’ve been trapped at home out of a job for three months and the only thing that brings some sense into my life is to keep taking pictures.”

Neskhodimov was born in 1981 and his work often touches on issues of disillusionment and alienation felt by the generation born in the early 1980s. They have been called xennials, a micro-generation who feel neither millennial or Gen X, people who had an analogue childhood followed by a digital adulthood.

Self-portrait with Christmas Trees
Self-portrait with Christmas Trees. Photograph: Arseniy Neskhodimov

Miranda Wolpert, the head of Wellcome’s mental health priority area, said: “This incredibly powerful series highlights the complexity of both emotions and coping mechanisms underpinning each person’s journey into their mental health. Neskhodimov’s visually arresting series manages to convey both the ongoing pain he experiences and the strategies to cope – including humour and creativity.”

Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and chair of judges, said mental health was still an issue surrounded by stigma. “When subjects stay in the shadows they remain stigmatised, but by bringing them out into the open this power is lost, helping reinforce that it is normal and we can talk about it,” he said.

Neskhodimov was named overall winner, for which he receives a £15,000 prize, and mental health category winner, which comes with a £1,250 prize.

Judges from across photography, medicine, media and science also chose winners in four other categories from a shortlist of 44 photographs taken by 25 professional, amateur and student photographers from 13 countries.

The social perspectives category was won by the Dutch photographer Marijn Fidder for Cards; hidden worlds was won by the Nigerian photographer Jenevieve Aken for Monankim; medicine in focus was won by Julia Gunther and Sophia Mohammed for Hadia; and the mental health single image prize was won by Benji Reid from Manchester for a photograph titled Holding on to Daddy.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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