Jameisha Prescod, Untangling. The isolation of lockdown exacerbated London film maker Jameisha Prescod’s depression, as she spent most of her time in the concentrated chaos of this room. “It’s where I work a full-time job, eat, sleep, catch up with friends and most importantly cry.” Before long, she felt like she was “drowning in the clutter”. For escape, she turned to knitting, which helps to soothe her mind. It may not be a cure, but it does at least put “everything else on pause” for a while.
The world faces huge health challenges, and we at Wellcome support science that can find ways to solve these. But we also want to change the way the world thinks about health and to inspire new action.
That’s why the Wellcome Photography Prize celebrates remarkable visual stories that bring these issues to life.
Yoppy Pieter, Trans Woman: Between Color and Voice. A slum area in Depok, West Java. There’s a community of trans women here, as rents are low and many of them are living in poverty. But during the pandemic, they are losing a lot of what little income they had, so they are finding it even harder to pay the rent. About this series: Trans women in Indonesia face many obstacles in life: it’s hard to get a job, and to access healthcare and other government services. All of these difficulties have been made much harder by Covid-19.
Our two winners for 2021 are Untangling, Jameisha Prescod’s picture of herself knitting to block out her depression during lockdown, and Trans Woman: Between Colour and Voice, Yoppy Pieter’s series chronicling how the Covid-19 pandemic has made life harder for trans women in Indonesia.
In the shortlist, 31 talented photographers share their personal views of three of the most urgent global health challenges: mental health, infectious disease and global heating. By bearing witness to these stories, we can all enrich our understanding – and strengthen our determination to find new solutions.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Conflict and Covid-19 in Nagorno-Karabakh. A man weeps beside a bloodied stretcher outside a medical centre in Stepanakert. In the face of the conflict, doctors abandoned Covid precautions like PPE. Infections quickly spread through medical staff, who continued working while sick. About this series: The war in Nagorno-Karabakh was the first conflict to start during the pandemic, and the overlap of the two crises was deadly. Infections spiralled out of control, caused by the pressure put on healthcare facilities and the mass movement of people in and out of this disputed territory (officially part of Azerbaijan, for years it has operated as a breakaway state backed by Armenia).
Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Conflict and Covid-19 in Nagorno-Karabakh. Arina (L) and Angelina (R) Hakobyan in bed at home. The family had fled Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, but now, like many others, they have returned – a second mass movement of people. The November peace deal ended the conflict, but not the spread of the virus.
Sudipto Das, Fighting Pandemic. It’s exhausting. A tram conductor in Kolkata, India, wears protective clothing from head to toe even in the heat of a summer afternoon. This was when restrictions were easing after India’s first Covid-19 lockdown – public transport was running, but staff were advised to suit up like this. We’ve all grown used to saluting the efforts of healthcare workers, but plenty of other people in public-facing jobs have performed grueling duties too to keep people safe.
Sujan Sarkar, Water Scarcity. Nine-year-old Rupali carries water for her family to use around the house. It’s salt water. Since 2009, when Cyclone Aila struck Mousuni Island, off the Indian coast south of Kolkata, the community has been reeling. Flooding and riverbank erosion have made the local water saline. The trees have either died or stopped bearing fruit, and agricultural land is infertile. You can just about wash things using salty water from the ponds, but proper, healthy drinking water is horribly scarce.
Nora Nord, ADHD Portraits. Rachelle (she/her) keeps her bedroom meticulously organized, an extension of her ADHD brain, filled to the brim with ideas and creativity. “I’ve always felt like I am too intense, but now that I understand that this is a symptom of my cognitive processing I feel unapologetic about it.” About this series: In the UK, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is ill-understood and under-diagnosed. The resultant lack of support makes life so much harder, causing mental health problems. To expand the conversation, Nora Nord photographs ADHD-diagnosed queer and trans people.
Kate Rosewell, Disconnected. Experiences of dissociation involve feeling separated from yourself, like watching your life as if it were a film. Distanced self-portraits like this one capture a sense of that for Kate Rosewell, and help her to make sense of what’s in her mind. Dissociation can be a way of deflecting intense trauma, but it can also occur in less extreme situations, not least the isolation of lockdown, which in another way has separated so many of us from reality.
Gideon Mendel (assisted by Maria Quigley), 2 Metres: Masked Portraits on Ridley Road. Sandra Odalipo, charity volunteer. “I’m an asylum seeker and as soon as the lockdown came I was housed into Queen Mary’s hostel. I couldn’t believe that one could be locked in a place for such a long time. I have health problems so I am vulnerable. When I go out I cover all my body and my face – to save myself and save people around me.” About this series: 100 portraits of community members, shot during the 104 days of the first UK lockdown. “Most of the people I approached were keen to be photographed, feeling that they wanted to advocate mask wearing to fight the virus,” says Gideon Mendel. Portraits taken during the UK’s first lockdown on Ridley Road in Hackney, east London. It’s usually the site of a bustling market, but its hours were restricted and distancing lines were painted on the road.
Lys Arango, Until the Corn Grows Back. Petrona, age ten, sits on a wooden bench inside a chuj, a Mayan steam bath. Her empty stomach is growling. Since her family suffered near-total crop losses, they are surviving as best they can on the coffee plantations, where Petrona has been working since she was five. About this series: Increasingly erratic climate patterns have produced year after year of failed harvests in Guatemala, forcing thousands of people to migrate, trying to escape poverty and malnutrition.
Hadi Dehghanpour, Corona Bride. Covid-19 and social distancing rules have disrupted life in so many ways, causing families all over the world to miss out on countless special occasions. This staged picture in Sabzevar, Iran, imagines how a bride and groom would have to interact if they were kept apart. No wedding ceremony, no cheering guests, no kiss. Love will have to adapt.
Morteza Niknahad, The Big Fish. “When I was a teenager I used to take everyone’s picture. After printing the photos, I realized they all had something in common: my mom was always looking away from the lens. At that time I thought it was by accident, but when I grew up I realised there was a mystery I didn’t know about.” About this series: Inspired by a local Iranian myth, Morteza Niknahad reimagined his mother’s long-standing depression as a fish-like monster inside of her, a constant enemy to struggle against.
Michael Snyder, The Family at the End of the World. Here, on the edge of the northernmost town in the world, a little girl has gone out to play. Saga Bernlow and her family live on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, where temperatures are rising fast. Their dogsledding business faces an uncertain future as the snowpack melts earlier every year. And other risks lurk too: scientists fear that melting permafrost may release long-extinct bacteria or viruses back into the atmosphere.
Thomas Duffield, Dad Cuts My Hair. Since Thomas Duffield was a child, his father has struggled with a heroin addiction. After a long estrangement, they have reconnected and found strength by addressing the mental health issues and vulnerabilities that surround their shared experience. “From tall tales of youthful mischief, to remorseful longing for the past, we have laughed deep into our stomachs and also held back tears like two teenage boys that were scared to let them go.” Here, the father cuts the son’s hair, an expression of parental care that can be hard to put into words.
Rebekah Williams, Birds of a Feather Flock Together. A collage featuring Nadeem Perera (L) and Ollie Olanipekun (R), who founded Flock Together in 2020 in response to stresses caused by the pandemic and racial injustice in society. The world of birdwatching, like so many others, is overwhelmingly white. About this series: Spending time in nature can be beneficial for mental health, and Flock Together is a London-based birdwatching club for people of color, building a community of mutual support.
Aly Song, The Time of Coronavirus. The global fight against Covid-19 has been enormous, deploying many different tactics. Here, in Wuhan, China – near where the pandemic started – in April 2020, volunteers are disinfecting the Qintai Grand Theatre. They work for the Blue Sky Rescue team, the largest humanitarian NGO in China. As the pandemic has progressed, we have learned more about which measures are most effective. Some may do more to boost public confidence than prevent the spread of the virus.
Sharwar Apo, Tears of Drought. Parents take their child to hospital in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, 10-15 miles across this drought-parched land, the mother holding a saline drip all the way. For much of the year, the land is dead like this, but for four months it’s flooded. Either way, safe drinking water is scarce, crops can’t grow, health problems abound – from dehydration to infection – and transport is limited. This family’s journey succeeded, and the child was treated for her diarrhoea. But many of those who attempt this journey are not so lucky.
Wellcome is a politically and financially independent global charitable foundation supporting discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, infectious disease, and climate and health.
Wellcome Photography Prize 2021
Winners & Shortlist Announced / Wellcome Trust Foundation
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