Competitions, Features, Wellcome Photography Prize

Does your photography explore contemporary health challenges?

© Cheney Orr

Wellcome Photography Prize invites submissions from image-makers investigating health-related issues in new and compelling ways

Throughout the Wellcome Photography Prize submission period, British Journal of Photography will be profiling photographers who are exploring health-related subject matter from different perspectives.

Photography and science have been intertwined since the medium’s inception. Photography was originally regarded as a scientific tool and employed by experts across a range of disciplines, including medicine. Today, it is still an invaluable resource within the scientific world.  

As an almost universal means of communication, photography is also capable of tackling health-related issues by drawing attention to, and shedding light on, them. The medium possesses the power to tell stories about science and health in myriad ways: from depicting the microscopic anatomy of a cancerous cell to documenting the devastating effects of an uncontrolled epidemic.

The new Wellcome Photography Prize, which is now open for entries, welcomes submissions that sit at the intersection of art and science, addressing health-related issues from new and compelling perspectives. “I am looking forward to seeing a diverse range of photographic works on the themes of health, science and medicine; an intersection that I have a great interest in,” says Emma Bowkett, director of photography at FT Weekend Magazine, and a member of this year’s judging panel.

Despite the brilliance of modern medicine, humanity continues to be plagued by countless health challenges; the Wellcome Photography Prize will celebrate work that explores these issues, generating conversations about them among scientists, artists and the public at large. 

© John Stanmeyer

The Wellcome Photography Prize is an expanded and updated incarnation of the Wellcome Image Awards, which ran for 20 years. Where previously, the competition was geared towards clinical and imaging experts, today, the Wellcome Photography Prize encourages entries from anyone whose work will inspire people to think differently about health, medicine and life in general. Submissions from photographers, photojournalists and artists – that may offer new perspectives on subject-matter traditionally confined to the scientific community – are encouraged.  “Photography has the power to convey a whole idea or tell a story in a single moment; the aim of the Wellcome Photography Prize is to celebrate work about the most challenging health issues of our time,” says Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome director.

Funding over 14,000 people in more than 70 countries, Wellcome – a global charitable foundation supports scientists and researchers in tackling some of the most pressing issues currently facing society. In line with this, the Wellcome Photography Prize will endeavour to select for its annual global health theme a subject that is particularly pertinent to the time.

‘Outbreaks’ was a topical choice for this year’s competition following the quiet return of the deadly Ebola virus earlier this year. “The outbreaks of Ebola between 2013 and 2016 in West Africa and today in the Democratic Republic of Congo; cholera in Yemen; and monkeypox here in the UK this month show just how real that threat is to us all,” says Farrar. “This year also marks the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic, when around 40 million people died of influenza (more than had died in World War I), which is also a poignant reminder of just how vulnerable we are to the power of infectious diseases.”   

‘Social Perspectives’, ‘Hidden Worlds’ and ‘Medicine in Focus’ are the three other categories to which entrants may submit. A description of each can be found here. Rather than being prescriptive, entrants are encouraged to interpret these categories in the broadest possible sense. “We want to encourage as much flexibility and creativity to allow people to bring their own ideas and interpretations of health to the widest possible community,” explains Farrar.

© Karen Kasmauski/National Geographic Creative

The Wellcome Photography Prize is free to enter and open to anyone, anywhere in the world. Each category winner will receive £1,250 and the overall winner will be awarded £15,000. The shortlist will be announced in summer 2019, with the individual prizes awarded at an exclusive ceremony in London in July 2019. Both the winning and shortlisted entries will be shown at a major public exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery at Central Saint Martins, that same month. The photographer selected for the Medicine in Focus category will also be awarded the Julie Dorrington commission, for which they will work on documenting the experience of an individual living with a medical condition.

Entrants will also have their work reviewed by an impressive panel of judges chaired by Wellcome director, Jeremy Farrar. The panel consists of Emma Bowkett, director of photography at FT Weekend Magazine; Azu Nwagbogu, curator at large for photography at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa; Pete Muller, a National Geographic photographer; Joanne Liu, the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières; Dr Heidi Larson, director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and Dan M. Davis, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester.

Words: Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Enter the Wellcome Photography Prize today! The deadline for submissions is 17 December 2018.

© Sian Davey

This content is supported by Wellcome. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.