Visit Exhibition – Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 at Mshed, Bristol: A judge’s perspective

I visited this exhibition not only from my interest in wildlife photography but also to gain an insight into how these competitions are judged.  Roz Kidman Cox, a competition judge, wildlife writer and former editor of BBC Wildlife gave a very informative and interesting talk as we toured the exhibition of 100 photographs, the product of some 43000 entries from photographers representing 26 countries. Roz was able to talk from a position of considerable experience having been involved with the competition since 1981 and she did so with evident passion and knowledge of wildlife and what it means to capture the moment but without undue interference.  The competition does not distinguish between professional and amateur, an interesting stance given the quite extensive resources that went into the capturing of some of the photographs, and has many categories.  There is a wide variety of images, some absolutely magical and others quite shocking. Obviously the judges have a mammoth task in distilling such a vast number of entries into the top 100 and the winners of each category but one of the things that struck me is that this is done completely anonymously and my understanding is that it is also without any data relating to the photograph unless there is a concern raised.  Given the strict code of photographic ethics placed on the entrants and the number of miscreants identified over the life of the competition it says much about the integrity of photographers worldwide, at least I hope it does.

I was surprised at the wide range of categories included in the competition, some that I would not have expected eg landscape, but on reflection, and a quick reminder of the definition (“the native fauna (and sometimes flora) of a region”) all would seem to encompass wildlife and provide for a very visually stimulating and thought-provoking collection of photographs.  As to be expected not all were to my taste, not only from a subject matter perspective but I some cases I though they pushed the boundaries just a bit too far with regard to the set up and the potential to disturb the animals.  However, I do accept that, at times, it may be necessary to go to extremes but I believe this should only be done when it is part of a necessary concerted campaign to bring a particular issue to the notice of a wider audience; it is a fine line we tread as photographers.

Whilst there were many in the cast of 100 that floated my boat there were four that I found had a real impact.  The first is a shot of two jaguars (The Spat), a female putting a male in his place, taken by Joe McDonald and won the Behaviour:Mammals category; this is exactly what I would expect to find in such an exhibition, it captures nature at its best, as found, and to my eyes is a technical masterpiece in capturing the moment as well as showcasing what a wildlife photographer, in the most basic sense of the definition, can reveal to us.  The next, the winner of the Wildscapes category, is by Sergey Gorshkov; it is the eruption of the Plosky Tolbachik volcano, a stunning photograph made all the more so when considering he shot it hanging out of an helicopter flying in close proximity to the event.  My third memorable entry is God’s Ivory by Brent Stirton, winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year category; in just six images he tells a story that depicts greed, wide cultural differences and craftsmanship.  The final photograph that has left a lasting impression is one by Garth Lenz, runner-up in World in our Hands category, Oil Spoils, which shows the devastation caused by the extraction of bitumen from the tar-sands in Canada;  I stood in front of this image for quite some time, my eye roving all over it taking in the detail of what is being done to the land, he clearly knows how to compose a captivating photograph that tells a story.  I was also very impressed by the entries in the young photographer category, some made me feel very much at the lower end of the learning curve!

This is an excellent exhibition made all the more so by the talk by Roz Kidman Cox, well worth a visit in my opinion.

Bibliography:

Lenz, G. (2014) Available from: http://www.garthlenz.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

M shed. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013.  Available from: http://mshed.org/whats-on/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year/ [Accessed 20 January 2014]

Natural History Museum. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013. Available from: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/wpy/about/index.html [Accessed 23 January 2014]

Stirton, B. (2014) Available from: http://www.brentstirton.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

 

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