The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition returns to the Natural History Museum for its 47th year. In the company of the winning entries, I moved through the sky, the sea, met animals in their habitat, devoid of colour and saw the creatures through urban eyes.
Owned jointly by BBC Wildlife Magazine and The Natural history Museum and with over 41,000 entries from 95 countries, the £10,000 prize is much coveted. But not more so than being named the Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the year by the esteemed judging panel.
Eased in gently with our kin, the mammals, the images are faultless in their skill, as well as plunging us into the sea with Polar bears and a glistening blue whale feasting on krill.
A notable category for me was Wildscapes – a selection of the finest landscapes on earth. The ethereal glow from Stephane Vetter’s winning shot Celestial Arch combined with the Denis Budkov’s shot of the Klyuchevskaya eruption in 2009 make for an unworldly and explosive category.
Nature in Black and White strips away everything but composition, quality and intensity. The winner of the category is the Irish photographer Peter Delany with Big Foot, a subtly lit shot of an elephant’s foot detailing each wrinkle and hair.
The animals stare unnervingly back at us in Animal Portraits. The winning image, Sinuousness, by Marc Colombo, contrasts the sharpness of the grass snake with the motion blur of the water caused by a long shutter speed, showing he is not just adept with a camera, but light on his feet. The runner up, Trust, by Klaus Echle is a personal favourite of mine. A female fox gazes expectantly at the viewer with no indication of aggression or fear.
The Young Photographers are split into three sections, under 10, 11-14 and 15-17. Each one could perhaps only be picked out as a young photographer by the naivety of the image, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. While the adult photographers will wait for days to catch one ant on a leaf, children don’t have the patience. What they do give us is birds sharing an oyster, animals cooling off underneath an irrigation system in the middle-eastern, midday sun and a bee tentatively entering a magnolia flower. Lessons of detail and enjoyment as good as any we can learn from children.
The overall winner of the competition is Daniel Beltrá, from Spain, whose shot Still Life in Oil is a portrait of eight pelicans cowering in a corner of a box at the bird rescue facility centre inFort Jackson,Louisianaafter the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Beltrá also won the Photojournalist of the Year award with a portfolio of five other images from the same disaster. The rest of the images are taken from the air and show the magnitude of the oil spill, magnificent in its disaster. Erik Sampers, judge comments of the shots: “With a poignancy made more shocking by their beauty”.
While the content is a humbling commentary on whom we share this precarious earth with, the atmosphere understates the majesty of the pieces. A sombre mood greets us at the entrance. Dark walls, generic lighting and the mounting of the images create an almost stark feeling which, despite the implied undertones of the sponsor, only serve to remind the viewer how far removed we are from nature and the environment in which these photos are taken.
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