Last week I attended the award ceremony of the Wellcome Image Awards. Every time I go to this event I tell myself I’ll submit an entry for the following year, but somehow I never manage to get a submission organised. I suspect my opportunities are dwindling because the standard of entries seems to be getting higher and higher.
The competition is often dominated by images from microscopy. Many of these are beautiful and arresting but this year I was pleased to see more entries that were more self-consciously artistic – with a capital ‘A’. They told stories rather than simply creating eye-catching abstractions from cells or biomolecules captured in microscopes, and I say that as someone who has worked in the molecular realm for the whole of his research career and made efforts to convey the strange appeal of studying life at the level of the atom.
My favourite piece in this year’s competition is the digital painting of Rita Levi-Montalcini by Russian artist Daria Kirpach. Levi-Montalcini, an Italian Jew, was forced to work in secret during the Mussolini regime. After the end of World War II she moved to continue her research in the USA and was jointly awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering nerve growth factor (NGF). Her life and her life’s work – and her elegant style of dress – are rendered with graceful simplicity in Kirpach’s portrait.
However, the competition judges were of a different mind and selected a haunting rendition of Crohn’s Disease called “Stickman” as the overall winner. But I am happy to concede that it too is a powerful work of Artistry.
Of course, your tastes may differ too. Have a look for yourself. You can see all 22 entries on Wellcome’s web-site – and vote for your favourite.