For Oliver Burston, Crohn's disease was akin to living like a skeleton—emaciated and overcome by a sense of frailty. Like many people who suffer from chronic illness, the list of his symptoms and ailments didn't do justice to the pain he felt in being attacked by his own body.
In order to express the physical and emotional pain of living with Crohn's, he created a computer-generated image titled "Stickman—The Vicissitudes of Crohn's (Resolution)," which so powerfully demonstrated his affliction that it won him the highest honors in the 2017 Wellcome Image Awards.
Created using a combination of CGI and illustration, the image depicted a skeletal frame, representing the weight loss often associated with Crohn's. The disease is caused by an inflammation of the digestive system, and sufferers often experience pain in the digestive area, along with extreme fatigue. The sticks protruding just below the ribs in Burston's illustration represent how a flare up can seemingly attack one's own body.
A stick thrust into the earth and a hare cradled in a background tree represent Burston's sense of hope and regeneration.
“This image is a stunning representation of what it must be like to have Crohn’s disease and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before in terms of the portrayal of someone’s condition," said Fergus Walsh, a BBC medical correspondent and judging panel member, in a press release. "It conveys the pain and torment the sufferer must go through."
The awards have been held for more than 20 years and differ from traditional photography contests by allowing submissions to encompass any type of creative imagery. The contest is supported by Wellcome, a global nonprofit whose library is an expansive resource of medical images, documents, and illustrations.
This year's submissions included mediums such as photography, illustrations, super-resolution microscopy, and medical scans.
The contest also recognizes clinical photography with the Julie Dorrington Award. This year's recipient was Mark Bartley, for his extremely close view of an iris clip inserted on an eye to treat near sightedness and cataracts. The 70-year-old patient whose eye was photographed regained nearly all his vision following the surgery.
Other notable entries included a digital illustration of Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini, scans showing intricate blood vessels inside a grey parrot, and a data visualization of how breast cancer is discussed on Twitter.
Nine judges selected a total of 22 images to recognize for their achievements in creating imagery that displays scientific ideas as art. Wellcome Images also partnered with the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research to share and source their pool of submissions.
Exhibitions of the winning images will tour across the United Kingdom, Europe, and Africa. A full list of venues can be found here.