The Art of Saving a Life Photo Project Focuses on the Importance of Vaccines

When artist Alexia Sinclair was approached by the Gates Foundation to do a photo project highlighting the history of the smallpox vaccine, she enthusiastically agreed, creating an intricately detailed set from scratch:

Called The Art of Saving a Life, the project is a tribute to Dr. Edward Jenner’s 1798 smallpox vaccine discovery and a reminder about the role of immunization in our modern world.

“Jenner’s work in pioneering a vaccine led to [smallpox] being the only disease that’s been completely eradicated from the planet.”

Sinclair didn’t take any shortcuts. She built the set for the photo shoot herself, carefully detailing each plaster frame, vial, and flower to represent an 18th century doctor’s office. Her costumed models sat in for Dr. Jenner and an 8-year-old patient,┬áJames Phipps, who played an important role in developing a vaccine for smallpox.

building photo set for smallpox shoot

To add even more depth to her photos, Sinclair built nuanced symbolism into the scene by elaborating on the Chinese name for smallpox: heavenly flowers. The flowers throughout the set served to demonstrate the global impact of the disease, and the skulls alongside the flowers emphasized the relationship between life and death.

vaccine photo project

“I’d really like this artwork to help start a discussion about the importance of vaccines.”

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