Picture credit: Albrecht Fuchs

Illness had prevented the 68-year-old from attending the announcement of the prize, at the V&A in London last Wednesday.

It was the first major international award for the German-born photographer, who has been described as one of the most important artists of our time, according to organisers.

Michael Schmidt (pictured) won 100,000 Swiss francs (just over £66,000) for Lebensmittel, a project which documents food’s journey from source to table.

‘We are mourning the loss of long time friend and distinguished artist Michael Schmidt,’ said the photographer’s Berlin-based gallery, Galerie Nordenhake.

In a statement, it added: ‘He died last Saturday after a serious illness, in Berlin.’

Paying tribute, Luc Delahaye, who won the prize in 2012 and was one of this year’s judges, said: ‘As a photographer, I’d like to say that Schmidt was doing the kind of work that helps us to keep faith in our profession.’

He added: ‘His language is one of precision and his tool is the most simple one: a small 35mm camera, and a few rolls of film.

‘His pictures look simple at first glance, and their anti-sentimentality, their refusal of all the tricks of the usual seduction, their concision and their clarity give them greater efficiency…

‘Michael Schmidt shows us that this kind of photography is today more relevant than ever…’

The theme of this year’s prize was Consumption. Schmidt’s portfolio included images of factory farms and slaughterhouses, as well as close-ups of food such as fish heads, apples and packaged mince.

The project comprised 60 photographs taken between 2006 and 2010.

Delahaye added: ‘A member of the jury said that this was probably one of the last times straight photography would be awarded or appreciated. He may be right, but I hope he’s wrong…’