Prizewinning photos give eye-opening perspectives on health

The Wellcome Photography Prize 2019 overall winner is Erin Lefevre for her picture of her young brother, who lives with autism.

Picture showing a 19-year-old man who is on the autistic spectrum lying on a bed playing with a piece of string. The handwritten text underneath the photograph reads I feel relaxed when I play with string

Credit: Erin Lefevre. Winner of the Wellcome Photography Prize 2019.

The winning photograph is from the series 'Liam’s World', an ongoing project that documents the life of the photographer’s brother.

A tender photograph, providing a personal insight into life with autism, has been announced as the overall winner of the Wellcome Photography Prize 2019. 'I Feel Relaxed When I Play with String', taken by Erin Lefevre, is a powerful photograph of her teenage brother Liam.

Liam has autism and finds that playing with string helps him relax. This is an example of stimming, or self-stimulating – a repetitive action to help him cope when he experiences sensory overload. Many children on the autism spectrum use stimming actions like hand-flapping, repeating a specific noise or playing with a certain object.

Erin Lefevre, a documentary photographer from New York City, took the photograph as part of a series called 'Liam’s World'. 

Amplifying the voices and experiences of people on the autism spectrum is so important. There are many stereotypical notions of what autism looks like – with Liam’s World, my objective is to help uplift my brother and empower people to speak for themselves.
Erin Lefevre. Winner of the Wellcome Photography Prize 2019.

Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome and chair of the judges’ panel, said: “The 2019 winning photograph is one of the most powerful images that I have seen in many years. It is an incredibly tender photograph that speaks to us all about the life of a young boy, but beyond that, in a beautifully intimate way, of what makes us all human.” 

The category winners

Lefevre’s winning photo was selected from 28 shortlisted images that tell stories of health, medicine and science. It also won the Social Perspectives prize category.

The other category winners are:

  • Outbreaks – David Chancellor for 'Virus Hunters', showing how researchers are identifying diseases that can spread from animal to human before they become a pandemic threat.
  • Medicine in Focus – Dmitry Kostyukov for 'Zora the Robot Care-Giver', exploring the role robots could play in helping care for society’s ageing population.
  • Hidden Worlds – Simone Cerio for 'Love Givers', revealing a little-known story of disability, sex and wellbeing.

Pete Muller, National Geographic Photographer and Fellow, and a member of the judging panel, said: “I was astounded and inspired by the extent of critical thought and diversity of execution that we encountered judging the contest this year. The photographers who put work forward are examining the nexus of human health and sociology in new and fascinating ways.” 

The 2019 judges talk about this year's winning images. Film by Barry J Gibb.

Explore the winning and shortlisted photos – online or in person

The winners, along with the other entrants on the 28-strong shortlist, are on display in the Lethaby Gallery, Central Saint Martins, in London, 4 – 13 July. The exhibition is free and open to all. 

It also features a commissioned series by Canadian photojournalist Adrienne Surprenant, on the theme of outbreaks. She tells the human story of dengue fever, one of the deadliest and commonest mosquito-borne diseases. Her remarkable photos capture the devastating human consequences of the disease and the attempts to tackle it, in Bangladesh, Fiji, Brazil and Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. 

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