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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. © Jameisha Prescod / Wellcome Photography Prize

“I took this image at a low point,” the filmmaker and journalist Jameisha Prescod shared on Instagram earlier this summer. “And having people see this is quite intimidating. But I guess that’s the point of all this.” Her self-portrait, made in her London apartment during lockdowns, has been selected this week as the single-image winner of the Wellcome Photography Prize.

In 2021, the world-renowned awards illuminate the untold stories of some of the most urgent health issues of our time, across three categories: Fighting Infections, Health in a Heating World, and Managing Mental Health. In addition to her overall single-image win, which comes with a £10,000 award, Prescod will take home £1,000 for her win in the latter category.

“One thing I’ve always returned to when dealing with low mood is knitting,” says Prescod, who dealt with depression during the isolation brought on by the pandemic. “I could have a super tight deadline and yet something inside of me says, ‘you should knit right now.’ Maybe it’s something about making sense out of an unstructured/untamed pile on yarn. Untangling things to build something new.”

Lilis (centre) having an HIV test in Serpong, South Tangerang. She is accompanied by Aurel (L) from Pelita Tangsel, an organisation that helps trans women access health services when they don’t have the required official documentation. © Yoppy Pieter / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

The series award, also £10,000, goes to Yoppy Pieter, a visual storyteller based in Jakarta, for the series Trans Woman: Between Colour and Voice, an exploration of the challenges faced by transgender women in Indonesia amid COVID-19. Against the backdrop of a devasting pandemic, exacerbated by ongoing discrimination against transwomen, several of the women he met faced income loss, and some faced obstacles in accessing health care.

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.  © Yoppy Pieter / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

Even during a painful time, Pieter also uncovered moments of hope, friendship, and resilience within this community. He met women who’d spent years fighting for their rights and supporting one another in the process; one, Mami Yuli, helped establish a living safe place for elderly transwomen. Pieter’s overall win is accompanied by his series win in the Fighting Infections category.

Mama Yuli (R) sits with Mama Dona (L) resting on her knee. As leader of the Indonesian Transgender Communication Forum, Mami Yuli is dedicated to fighting for trans women’s rights. During the pandemic she has been distributing financial support to her community, with contributions coming from individuals and churches instead of government. © Yoppy Pieter / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021
“My mother once told me a secret about a monster she saw in her nightmares, which is why I always visualised a big dead fish on her bed.”  © Morteza Niknahad / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

The series award for Managing Mental Health went to Morteza Niknahad in Iran, whose project The Big Fish explores his mother’s depression through the lens of a local myth. In his dreamlike pictures, that depression becomes embodied by a large dead fish. “In this project, I talked about my mother and a family secret,” he says. “It was a difficult decision, but I am happy because, with the project, I helped my mother.”

“In a period of 15 years, my mom lost three important members of her family: her brother’s son, Ali, her brother, Hossein, and her daughter-in-law, Masoumeh.”   © Morteza Niknahad / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021
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. © Aly Song / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

The single image winner in the Fighting Infections category is The Time of Coronavirus, captured by the Reuters photographer Aly Song in Wuhan, China, near the location where the first cases were reported. The photograph highlights the work of the Blue Sky Rescue Team, China’s largest NGO humanitarian organization, as they disinfect the Qintai Grand Theatre.

Three months after Cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh, Habibur Rahman Sarder salvages anything still useful from the wreckage of his house. Like many others, Habibur remains homeless, taking shelter wherever possible. He has nowhere to cook and nowhere to grow crops, and medical treatment is hard to come by. Bangladesh’s coastal communities are severely at risk from climate change, with 20–25 million people predicted to be forced out of their homes by 2050. © Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

The third category, Health in the Heating World, illuminates the effects of climate change on communities around the globe. The single image winner for this category is a picture by the photojournalist Zakir Hossain Chowdhury, created in the months following Cyclone Amphan in coastal Bangladesh, where people have been displaced and continue to face daily flooding. “Our embankment collapsed and our houses have eroded,” Habibur Rahman Sarder, the man in the photo, explained. “We have no space to live, no space to cook food, and no place to grow food.”

Yasmin Raeesi, age 17, uses a dead tree for drying clothes. She and her family live in a drought area with little drinking water, which leads to a health problems like dehydration, malnutrition and disease. © Hashem Shakeri  / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

Hashem Shakeri also wins the Health in the Heating World category for his series An Elegy for the Death of Hamun, an ongoing testament to the people and landscape of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province. Though the area was once home to verdant forests and crops, a changing climate has transformed it into a desert; Lake Hamun has given way to cracked, dry land, forcing the surrounding communities to contend with drought, famine, and unemployment.

The Hamun wetlands are mostly dry nowadays, but after recent flooding Moslem has been able to catch some fish. It won’t be long before the water disappears again. © Hashem Shakeri  / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

The shortlist for the 2021 Wellcome Photography Prize includes 90 photographs by 31 photographers from fifteen countries around the globe. The prize, now in its third year, is an initiative of Wellcome, one of the world’s leading research-based charities. This year’s winning and shortlisted entries mark an unprecedented and historic moment in global health, but they also underscore the power of compassion and change. While many of the stories they’ve documented are personal, they speak to a universal need for better awareness and understanding of the health issues reshaping our world.

Abdullah, who is fasting, is resting under a fruit tree that has recently dried out and been infested by beetles. There are still plenty of green trees around, but he believes that farming will soon become unviable here. © Hashem Shakeri  / Wellcome Photography Prize 2021

Jameisha Prescod almost didn’t publish her self-portrait, titled Untangling. As she later told The Huffington Post, she mostly wanted to create something for herself that captured the rawness of the moment. She decided to share it for others–to show us that we’re not alone. “This pandemic has truly been an agent of chaos,” Jameisha Prescod wrote after being announced as this year’s overall single image winner. “So much loss, grief and depression amongst reconnection, humanity and creativity. I guess I was kind of trying to encompass my experience of that with this image.” You can see all of this year’s winners and shortlisted entries on the Wellcome website.

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