Arseniy Neskhodimov’s self-portrait series Prozac has earned him the top spot at the Wellcome Photography Prize 2020, as well as the winner of the Series category. The award this year placed a focus on the theme of mental health, in a bid to “challenge preconceptions and stereotypes, and provide a more authentic look at people’s experiences of mental health”.
Born in Uzbekistan and now based in Moscow, Neskhodimov’s series uses photography to document his depression, which he has experienced since he was 20 years old. After finding antidepressants unhelpful, he went in search of an environment that would make him happier. The quest took him to his parents’ house in Moscow and Sharm El Sheik in Egypt where he photographed the winning series, which includes an image of Neskhodimov submerged in dark waters and quiet, solitary moments in resort hotels.
“My self-portrait stories are a kind of therapy that help me fight off the attacks of despair and loss of meaning, especially in this difficult pandemic time,” Neskhodimov explains. “I’ve been trapped at home out of a job for three months and the only thing that brings some sense into my life is to keep taking pictures.”
The series was praised by Wellcome’s Miranda Wolpert for highlighting “the complexity of both emotions and coping mechanisms underpinning each person’s journey with their mental health. Neskhodimov’s visually arresting series manages to convey both the ongoing pain he experiences and the strategies to cope – including humour and creativity.”
Alongside Neskhodimov, the winners of the four remaining categories include Dutch photographer Marijn Fidder, whose picture of an 11-year-old with a brain tumour won the Social Perspectives category. Nigerian documentary photographer Jenevieve Aken won the Hidden Worlds category with Monankim, a gripping image of a teenage girl from the Bakor community – which the photographer also comes from – sitting in a healing room following her circumcision, a controversial practice that makes her a Monankim.
The Medicine in Focus category was won by Julia Gunther’s image of Sophia Mohammed – a community rehabilitation expert in South Sudan – providing treatment for birth defects on four-month-old Hadia, who was born with spina bifida, club foot and fluid in the brain. The final category winner is British photographer Benji Reid, who experiences long bouts of depression. His inspired photograph portrays him as a ‘broken astronaut’ “tethered” to his daughter and consequently to the real world.
The overarching theme of this year’s award is being explored further in specially commissioned works by photographer Siân Davey, who was also a judge this year, and the Covid-19 Anxiety Project, which involves five photographers exploring how the pandemic has impacted the public’s mental health.