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Picturing better lives

ESRC are challenging young people to take a photograph that demonstrates what better lives means to them. 

Our fifth annual photographic competition ‘Better Lives’ asks 14 to 18-year-olds to explore creatively the relevance of studying many different aspects of society to improving lives.  At work, in school or college, at home and within our communities, social science affects us all every day and the competition’s five categories are an opportunity to investigate this in detail:   

  • Better health – how emotional and physical wellbeing is important for individuals, communities and brings many benefits to society
  • Better education – how this can provide us with the knowledge, skills and abilities to participate fully and effectively in society and the economy.
  • Better economy – how this affects people’s access to jobs, businesses’ ability to thrive and a country’s infrastructure, providing a better standard of living, improving our housing and services.
  • Better environment – how our environment sustains life on earth and provides us with natural resources, the steps taken to tackle climate change and how this can improve lives.
  • Better relationships – how societal networks of relationships between friends, neighbours and local communities can build trust and understanding while supporting the young, old and most at risk in society. 

Images can be taken on cameras, mobile phones or tablets and must be entered into one of the five categories.

Each entry must be accompanied by a 100-word supporting statement detailing how it relates to the category and to social science.

Jennifer Rubin, ESRC Executive Chair, said: “Social science research plays a vital role in helping us understand the way people, communities, organisations and markets work and relate to each other, and how we can use this knowledge to improve lives.  The ESRC photographic competition is a great opportunity for young people to explore what this means to them. What adds to the quality of their lives? Is it better education, health and wellbeing, relationships, more money, or a safer, more sustainable environment?”.

The competition will be judged by Jacky Clake, Head of Communications at the ESRC, i newspaper picture editor Sophie Batterbury, documentary and portrait photographer Ollie Smallwood, BBC picture editor Phil Coomes, and the overall winner of the 2016 competition, Joanne Gallagher.

The competition will close on 7 December 2018 and winning photographs will be exhibited at the Espacio Gallery, London, from 26-30 March 2019, with a special ceremony and private viewing for the winners on 26 March.

Each category winner will receive £150 in vouchers and a trophy, with runners-up receiving £50 in vouchers and a medal. The overall winner will also receive £200 in vouchers and a special trophy. The judges’ favourite images will receive £50 in vouchers.

All winning photographs will appear in the summer 2019 issue of our Society Now magazine.

Notes for editors

  1. The ESRC Photographic Competition is open to all young people resident in the UK and born between 1 September 2000 and 31 August 2004. Entrants are able to submit up to a total of three photographs in the competition. Each photograph may only be submitted once. All entries must be submitted via the online entry form and must have been taken on or after 1 January 2018. 
  2. Prints or entries received via email or disc are not permitted. The total prize fund is more than £3,500. Where a winning entrant has specified a school, sixth form, Further Education College or youth group as part of their application, the organisation will also receive a prize.
  3. The awards ceremony and private viewing for winning and exhibited photographs will take place at the Espacio Gallery, London, on 26 March 2019 and winners will receive their invitation no later than 1 March 2019.
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit the UKRI website.
  5. The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies and the infrastructure for social science research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.


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