Erin Lefevre wins the Wellcome Photography Prize 2019

A tender photograph, providing personal insight into living with autism, has been selected as the overall winner for the Wellcome Photography Prize 2019. The winning photograph has been selected from 28 shortlisted images, which celebrate stories of health, medicine and science.

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.

'I Feel Relaxed When I Play with String', taken by Erin Lefevre, is a powerful photograph of her brother Liam. Liam has autism and finds that playing with string helps him to relax. Children on the autism spectrum can have stimming, or self-stimulating, behaviours. These may be repetitive motions, such as hand-flapping, repetition of noises or playing with string, which can help them to cope when they experience sensory overload.

Erin Lefevre, a documentary photographer from New York City, took the photograph as part of a series called 'Liam’s World', with each image containing handwritten captions by now 18-year old Liam.

Erin Lefevre, overall winner of the Wellcome Photography Prize, commented on being selected as the winner: "Even just being nominated has been such an honour. 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 on the autism spectrum and people with disabilities to speak for themselves.

“I am very grateful to the judges and Wellcome for believing in my work and supporting me in my artistic endeavours."

Commenting on this year’s winner, Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome and Chair of the Prize jury 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.

“While we can talk and write on how science and society all comes together, photographs can truly put you in the room. The stunning entries to this year’s Wellcome Photography Prize are a great example of how complex topics from health, medicine and science can be brought to life. Please do join us at the London exhibition when it opens to the public for free on 4 July and see the shortlisted images up close.”

The awards were presented at a ceremony at the Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins, London on 3 July, with the overall winner receiving a prize of £15,000.

The category winners

An expert panel of high-profile judges from across the arts, science and global health chose the overall winning image from the winners of the competition’s four categories: Social Perspectives, Hidden Worlds, Medicine in Focus and the themed category for 2019, Outbreaks.

The category winners are:

  • David Chancellor for 'Virus Hunters' in the Outbreaks category
  • Dmitry Kostyukov for 'Zora the Robot Care-Giver' in the Medicine in Focus category
  • Simone Cerio for 'Love Givers' in the Hidden Worlds category
  • overall winner Erin Lefevre for 'I Feel Relaxed When I Play with String' in the Social Perspectives category.

Each category winner receives a prize of £1,250. The images explore a hidden story on disability, sex and wellbeing; the role robots could play in helping care for society’s aging population; and how researchers are identifying zoonotic diseases, such as flu, before they become a pandemic threat.

Azu Nwagbogu, Curator at Large for Photography at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Nigeria, and member of the judging panel said: “The visual quality, inventiveness and sophisticated simplicity of the shortlisted entries demonstrate an understanding of contemporary society and represent another aspect of the Wellcome Prize: the human condition, with all its variableness and contradictions. 

“It was an honour to work with other jurors on this prize and hopefully we can share and understand more about our common humanity through the work of these photographers.”

Pete Muller, National Geographic Photographer and Fellow, and 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.”

Wellcome Photography Prize exhibition

All the winning and shortlisted entries will be shown in the Wellcome Photography Prize exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery, Central Saint Martins in London from 4-13 July 2019, which will be free and open to all to visit.

The exhibition will also feature a commission by Canadian photojournalist Adrienne Surprenant, which explores the theme of outbreaks. The series she has created tells the human story of dengue fever, one of the most deadly and prevalent mosquito-borne diseases. Her remarkable photos capture the devastating human consequences for communities affected by the disease and the attempts being made to tackle it in Bangladesh, Fiji, Brazil and Réunion island in the Indian Ocean.

Judges panel for the 2019 prize

  • Emma Bowkett, Director of Photography at FT Weekend Magazine, UK
  • Dan M Davis, Professor of Immunology at the University of Manchester, UK
  • Heidi Larson, Director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK
  • Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, Switzerland
  • Pete Muller, National Geographic Photographer and Fellow, Kenya
  • Azu Nwagbogu, Curator at Large for Photography at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Nigeria.
  • Chair of judges, Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome, UK