NHM

Akashinga, ‘The Braves Ones,’ the women saving Africa’s wildlife — and now finalists for the World Press Photo of the Year.

Judging from the social-media nontroversies over judging faux pas at past World Press Photo Awards, one could be forgiven for thinking the prestigious photo contest,now in its 62nd year, must have an enemies list to rival that at any MAGA rally.

There were the concerns over “post-processing” in 2013; the staged photos and subsequent disqualification of a WPPA-winning photographer in 2015; the cancellation of the WPP exhibition at Visa Pour L’image (also in 2015); the creation of a new category, for “creative documentary photography” in 2016 (a competition that, in the words of contest organizers, “not have rules limiting how images are produced,” that would allow staged and manipulated images); questions about the authenticity of the 2nd-place long-term projects winner (‘An Iranian Journey’) in 2017; and the fracas over 2017’s World Press Photo of the Year, of which jury chair Stuart Franklin said at the time, “I didn’t think, if I’m honest with you, that (this) should be World Press Photo of the Year.”

One photographer’s controversy is another’s nontroversy.

If I’m honest with you — speaking strictly for myself — the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards aside, the World Press Photo awards is the one I pay closest attention to.

And that’s why I was gratified to see that, this year, for the second year in a row, an environmental conservation photographer has been nominated for World Press Photo of the Year.

New York-based, South African-born war photographer Brent Stirton — whose controversial (hard to avoid that word, where high-profile photojournalism awards are concerned) image of a dead rhino slaughtered for its horn won the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award — has made the shortlist of six images for this year’s World Press Photo of the Year, for his image Akashinga — the Brave Ones.

The Akashinga are an all-female anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe, not the most stable country on earth, nor the easiest for women to take up arms against poachers — all men — willing to kill anyone who stands between them and the booming market in illegal ivory and rhino horn.

©Brent Stirton/Getty Images

©Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The World Press Photo Awards are top-shelf in my view because, unlike, say, the Pulitzers, they reflect the world’s best, not just America. The other nominees for Photo of the Year, for example, hail from Italy (Marco Gualazzini, Almajiri Boy); Syria (Mohammed Badra, Victims of an Alleged Gas Attack Receive Treatment in Eastern Ghouta); France-Spain (Catalina Martin-Chico, Being Pregnant after FARC Child-Bearing Ban); Australia (Chris McGrath, The Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi); and the U.S. (John Moore, Crying Girl on the Border).

Shortlisted candidates in other categories include photojournalists from Venezuela, Mexico, the Netherlands and Sweden.

In all, 43 photographers from 25 countries have been nominated for this year’s awards, the 62nd edition in the organization’s history. A new category, World Press Story of the Year, should prove less controversial than 2016’s “Photoshop is OK” category — fake news! — but recent history cautions that wherever there is a high-profile photo contest with the profile of the WPOTY or WPP awards, controversy inevitably follows.

The World Press Photos are a lightning rod for debate because they’re now the world’s most high-profile competition in a field of photography that’s all about competition. Winning can lead to paid work in what’s an ever-shrinking pool of full-time staff jobs with credible, reputable media organizations.

Different juries judge the awards each year, which lessens the chance of an institutional bias — or laziness — setting in.

Stirton knows that a great story lies at the heart of any great photograph. He got his start as a war photographer, covering conflict on his home continent of Africa. In his later years — he’s now repped by Getty Images in New York — his photojournalism has taken on more of an environmental angle, the result of his witnessing, and photographing, a mountain gorilla slaughtered for its body parts in a war-torn corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DNC), more than a decade ago now, in 2007.

©Brent Stirton / BrentStirton.com

©Brent Stirton / BrentStirton.com

An all-female army of wildlife rangers sounds like a gimmick, but as a BBC story by correspondent Rachel Nuwer last September showed, it isn’t. The project is the brainchild of Australian Defence Force special-operations sniper Damien Mander, who had been hired to stem a wave of poaching in Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Park, a 115-square-mile former trophy-hunting area, ground zero in a larger ecosystem that’s home to some 11,000 elephants. The women, 16 in all, come from backgrounds of abuse and deprivation, and so are motivated to prove what they can do. The women feel empowered, and are more likely to improve their communities in the process. They chose the  name “Akashinga” themselves, after Mander asked them to come up with a name for their unit. Akashinga means “the Brave Ones,” in the local Shona language.

“There’s a saying in Africa,” Mander told BBC. “‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ We’re seeing increasing evidence that empowering women is one of the greatest forces of change in the world today.”

The situation is serious. In just seven years, Africa’s elephant populations have crashed by 30%, largely due to poaching.

Stirton’s World Press Photo nominated image is a portrait of Petronella Chigumbura, age 30, in the field, where her specialty is in military stealth and concealment. Akashinga’s stated aim is to work with  rather than against local communities, Stirton explained in his submission. This is especially relevant today, as a renewed debate over whether trophy hunting can help fund conservation efforts, in wilderness areas where elephant populations have grown to the point where an ever-shrinking ecosystem can no longer sustain herd animals that eat up to 500 kgs. of trees and agricultural crops a day. Unlike trophy hunting, conservationists argue, finding ways to get local communities involved in serving and protecting wild animals is a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.

For his part, Stirton understands that a single powerful image is worth a thousand words — at least — if, at the end of the day, the idea is to galvanize people to act.

The same could be said of any of this year’s six finalists of course. A single image can indeed change the world. And that, controversies aside, is what the World Press Photo Awards are all about.

The 62nd Annual World Press Photo Awards will be handed out April 11 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.


©John Moore/Getty Images

©John Moore/Getty Images

©Chris McGrath/Getty Images

©Chris McGrath/Getty Images

©Marco Gualazzini/Contrasto

©Marco Gualazzini/Contrasto

©Mohammed Badra/European PressPhoto Agency

©Mohammed Badra/European PressPhoto Agency

©Catalina Martin-Chico/Panos

©Catalina Martin-Chico/Panos



When “Earth becomes Mars” — a global warning from inaugural Wildlife Photographer of the Year lifetime achievement recipient Frans Lanting.

“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be — a landscape, a person — requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping what’s in front of you.”

That’s Frans Lanting, recipient of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards’ first Lifetime Achievement Award, earlier this week at London’s Natural History Museum. The ceremony just celebrated  its 54th year of existence, so while “lifetime achievement awards” are a dime a dozen these days — there’s even one for shoe salesmen — being the first in an organization that has existed for more than half a century is saying something.

Lanting, 67, a Dutch nature photographer based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has been at this game almost as long — so much so that, in addition to numerous published books, including several by the Cologne-based German art-house publisher Taschen and his personal website (lanting.com)

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he rates his very own page at BrainyQuote.com

. “I want to interpret the natural world and our links to it,” he says. “It’s driven by the belief of many world-class scientists that we’re in the midst of an extinction crisis. . . This time (of our own making.)”

Life is both wonderful and mysterious, he says.

“Life is a force in its own right. It is a new element. And it has altered the Earth. It covers Earth like a skin.”

And this, “Life needs a membrane to contain itself, so it can replicate and mutate.”

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“I became interested in photography during my first visit to the United States. I was a student at a university in Holland. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the American West. That was when I learned about the tradition of nature in American photography.”

“Tourism is important,” Lanting adds, “because it can create sustainable local economies. I’d much rather have 1,000 tourists going up the Tambopata than 1,000 gold miners.”

©Frans Lanting

©Frans Lanting

And then there’s this:

“Water is the key to life, but in frozen form, it is a latent force. And when it vanishes, Earth becomes Mars.”

His wife, he says, “says that I become different once I start to work with animals. My movements become different, my mood is different. It involves letting everything fall behind you, becoming intuitive in your dealings with wild creatures in a way that bypasses reason. Sometimes it’s more like a dance than anything else.”

As with many nature photographers of his generation, Lanting’s work over the years has evolved from portrait and landscape photography to activism and conservation. He was appointed special ambassador for the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2012, and counts a World Press Photo award, the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society, the Lennart Nilsson Award and the Royal Geographical Society’s Cherry Kearton Medal among his list of honours.

“Nature is my muse,” Lanting has said, “and it’s been my passion.”

Some truths were meant to be self-evident.

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“Nice” is in, controversy is out at Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 awards.

The first thing to know about this year’s winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards is that this time, the jury shied away from controversy with its picks. “Nice” is the operative word in the 2018 edition, unlike last year, when South African photojournalist Brent Stirton’s image of a slaughtered rhino forced people to confront serious issues facing wildlife conservation today.

The inevitable result is that, as likeable as many of the 2018 winners are, collectively they’re unlikely to stir the kind of difficult debate about species extinction and the wanton slaughter of rare animals for their body parts many conservationists — and wildlife photographers — say is even more imperative today, in a Trump world of climate denial and environmental deregulation.

That means fewer angry emails to contest organizers from parents upset that their younger, more  impressionable children might be dissuaded from a career in conservation, because the winning image didn’t reflect the beauty and wonder of nature.

This year’s overall winning image — “The Golden Couple,” Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten’s tender portrait of a pair of rare golden snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus roxellana) taken in central China’s Qinling Mountains, certainly evokes wonder. The image was chosen over 45,000 entries, from 95 countries. It will be one of 100 other images to go on display at London’s Natural History Museum, the 54th such exhibition in the world’s most prestigious, high-profile wildlife photography contest. The exhibition opens this weekend, Oct. 19th, and closes July 1st, next year.

In her statement to the world’s media this week, long-serving jury chair Roz Kidman Cox admitted the winning image is traditional — it’s a portrait, pure and simple — but then added, “But what a striking one, and what magical animals. It is a symbolic reminder of the beauty of nature and how impoverished we are becoming as nature is diminished. It is an artwork worthy of hanging in any gallery in the world.”

©Marsel van Oosten

©Marsel van Oosten

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On one level, this is true. It’s hard to imagine Stirton’s dead rhino, blood still congealing from the stump where poachers hacked off its horn with a chain saw, being unveiled at the Louvre or the National Portrait Gallery.

For all Cox’s brave words, though, “The Golden Couple” is unlikely to make people stop and ask themselves, what happened here, who did this, why did they do it, and what can we do to prevent it from happening again.

Admittedly, it’s also hard to imagine Cox’s email in-box filling up with angry comments along the lines of last year’s, “How dare you? I’ll never follow your rotten contest again” viral outrage. As many upset patrons were only too happy to remind Cox then, nature photography is supposed to be about awe and  appreciation, about inspiration and inculcating our collective sense of wonder, and not something that’s shocking and awful.

©Natural History Museum

©Natural History Museum

I also know at least one prominent wildlife photographer and former WPOTY winner, a high-profile veteran who gives frequent lectures as part of National Geographic’s National Geographic Live! speaker series, who argues that the time for debate has passed, that it’s more important to shake people out of their complacency than to show them another pretty picture of a wonderful animal doing something wonderful. (Interesting fact: The award committee’s decision to opt for such a violent, off-putting image in last year’s edition sparked some of the most intense debate the jury committee can remember in awards history, but in the end the choice was unanimous. Yes, unanimous. Not only that, but that was reportedly the first time in the awards’ 54-year history that, in the end, the entire jury agreed on the final choice, without a single dissenting vote.)

Here, then, without further ado, is a selection of this year’s picks, along with a link to the Natural History Museum’s awards page, and a link to an investigative article about the precarious situation facing China’s dwindling population of golden snub nosed monkeys.

In a few days, I’ll be posting a profile of renowned wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, winner of this year’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, but first this.


http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2018/october/winning-images-announced-for-wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2018.html

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year--the-uncertain-future-of-chinas-primates.html


©Skye Maeker

©Skye Maeker

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There are no good years or bad years anymore at Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards.

There are no longer good years or bad years at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. The prestigious contest — half a century in the making — sponsored by London’s Natural History Museum, has never seemed more important.

This past weekend, some 14 commended images in this year’s edition — the 54th overall — were announced to the public. 

One of those images, South African nature photographer Isak Pretorius’ stirring image of a lion drinking from a reed-covered riverbank, has already been selected as the cover shot for Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio 28. The overall competition winners will be announced on Oct. 16, and a full exhibition of winners and finalists will go on display at the Natural History Museum three days later, on Oct. 19.

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/wpy/gallery/2017/images/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year/5281/memorial-to-a-species.html

https://www.naturettl.com/yes-shocking-rhino-photo-deserve-win-wpoty/

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/wildlife-photographer-year-winner-disqualified-competition-judges-stuffed-anteater-a8325691.html

Submissions for next year’s 2019 WPOTY Awards open Oct. 22 and close on Dec. 13. The window is short, in other words — just eight weeks.

The past year has seen its fair share of controversy, from photojournalist Brent Stirton’s competition-winning 2017 image of a slaughtered rhino, its horn hacked off with a chainsaw by poachers — many viewers found the image to be disturbing and inappropriate for a competition supposedly designed to celebrate nature in all its beauty — to the disqualification of Brazilian photographer Marcio Cabral’s award-winning night image of an anteater moving towards termite mound that was later found to be staged. (The anteater turned out to be stuffed, arguably making it the most famous stuffed animal in the history of taxidermy.)

It will be instructive to see what image wins this year’s competition, because by focusing on a hard-hitting “message” picture last year, award judges were signalling that the most urgent issue facing wildlife today is environmental ruin, everything from habitat destruction to poaching and looming species extinction. It’s no longer enough, in other words, to celebrate natural beauty just for nature and beauty’s sake.

With no further ado, then, here’s a look at a few of this year’s commended images.

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Another photo contest, another scandal: Welcome to the world of temptation-by-social-media and instant gratification.

Here we go again. Another photo contest, another scandal. Consider it a scourge of the digital age. Digital technology, the very thing that made wildlife photography easier — less time trying to match ISO with available light; less time worrying about whether you’re running out of film at that exact moment your subject is about to do something, anything, let alone the very thing you’ve been waiting all this time for; less time fretting about whether the subject is even in focus to begin with — has also made it easier to fake that seeming once-in-a-lifetime capture.

Digital manipulation leaves a trace, but that still means a wildlife image can be staged, using a captive animal or — as in this most recent accusation — a possibly stuffed animal. Digital technology can make tiny, telling details that would otherwise send up a warning flag almost seamless. 

Prize-winning nature photographer Marcio Cabral has been accused of using a stuffed anteater in his Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest image — now removed by contest sponsors from the London Natural History Museum exhibit of last year’s winning and nominated images — of an anteater eying a termite mound glowing with bioluminescence, beneath a starlit sky in Brazil’s grasslands. The image was named best-in-show in the prestigious contest’s “Animals in Their Environment” category.

©Marcio Cabral/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

©Marcio Cabral/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

Questions were raised after an “anonymous third party” flagged the eerie similarities between the anteater in the Cabral photograph and a taxidermy anteater displayed at one of the entrances to Brazil’s Emas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the same park Cabral said he had scoured for three years at night, trying to get the distinctive image. 

©Natural History Museum (UK)

©Natural History Museum (UK)

In what seems a shame for the other shortlisted candidates in the category, contest organizers say they are vacating Cabral’s win and will not replace his image with another winner. The names of the other finalists were announced last October, the Natural History Museum explained, which means the judges “can no longer render an objective decision.”

I’m not sure I follow that logic — surely the judges can get together in a conference call and decide which of the runners-up they like best in retrospect, but then I’m not privy to the details of the case behind the scenes. The only thing that does seem clear is that the entire situation is a mess. (Photographers who submit images to the WPOTY competition must sign a waiver saying their image has not been staged or manipulated in any way, standard practice in virtually all nature-photo competitions nowadays. It’s largely based on an honour system, though; detection, where it exists at all, is usually after-the-fact and difficult to enforce.)

Cabral denies the accusation, and that’s important to note. The thing with photography, especially wildlife photography, is that much of it has to be taken on faith. Nature photographers, by definition, spend long hours under stressful conditions in the middle of nowhere, often unseen by other human eyes. It’s the nature of the beast, if you will. Nature photography is based on the honour system; there often aren’t witnesses to corroborate or refute the conditions under which an image was captured. The reputable nature photographers who’ve made a name for themselves, often but not always with well-established media organizations like National Geographic and Getty Images, form a close, tight-knit community, in part because it’s a tough job, tougher than it looks, and in part because it’s a hard way to make a living, let alone establish a reputation as one of the world’s best. 

The advent of social media has created a field of intense competition, where clicks and “likes” count for everything. That wasn’t the case just 10 years ago, at least not to the extent it is today. Established conservation photographers like Steve Winter, Michael “Nick” Nichols, Beverly Joubert, Paul Nicklen, Brent Stirton (below), Ami Vitale, Cristina Mittermeier — even a young up-and-comer like New Jersey teen Ashleigh Scully — don’t need to prove themselves.

©Brent Stirton.com

©Brent Stirton.com

For relative unknowns looking to break in, though, the temptation to game the system must be great indeed, especially in a present-day social milieu that seems to be driven more and more by instant gratification. We live in a wired, connected world after all, where even some bozo on YouTube can become a millionaire overnight, based on little more than clickbait and trending views.

Reaction to the Cabral controversy has ranged from mild surprise to shock — “I find it disheartening that a photographer would go to such lengths to deceive the competition and its worldwide following,” WPOTY 2017 judge Roz Kidman Cox said Friday in a statement — but perhaps the real surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often. By its nature, nature photographer can be about getting that one image of a lifetime, though it’s also true that the most respected, admired photographers are those who have a proven track record over time. 

Cox is no dilettante; she was editor of Wildlife Magazine (now BBC Wildlife) for more than two decades, and has been a judge of Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition since 1981.

Brent Stirton, a South Africa-born, New York-based war correspondent for Getty Images who won the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for his haunting, hard-to-look-at image of a rhino slaughtered for its horn, was quoted at length in The Guardian as saying he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to fake an image and then try to pass it off in such a high-profile competition, knowing it would be scrutinized not just by other photographers but also by behavioural scientists — actual field biologists who study animals for a living and can spot questionable behaviour and situations in a heartbeat. Stirton knows a thing or two about the danger genuine nature photographers find themselves in; after surreptitiously taking an award-winning photo of a poached mountain gorilla in Congo’s Virunga National Park in July, 2007, he was told in no uncertain terms to get out of there fast because, “People were looking for him.” People with guns. And a proven track record of using them.

©Brent Stirton/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

©Brent Stirton/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

The London Natural History Museum is not some monkey exhibit at the local library; submitting a faked photo to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards is a little like trying to pass off a plagiarized novel in front of the Pulitzer Prize award committee.

Behavioural science is one thing, where animals are concerned. Who, though, can figure out what gets into human beings’ minds at times?

Whether the Cabral photo was faked or not, only Cabral can know for certain. The contest judges — and the independent scientists they canvassed — seemed to think so. In retrospect, if not at the time.seemed

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/27/606369773/the-wrong-stuff-prize-winning-wildlife-photographer-accused-of-using-taxidermy

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/27/winning-anteater-photo-disqualified-judges-agree-stuffed-marcio-cabral

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/oct/17/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2017-the-winners


 

 

Ami Vitale: In a world of 7 billion people, our fate is inextricably linked with that of nature.

One of the world’s leading international news agencies features a weekly thread on its website titled, “World sport: 10 photos we liked this week.”
It sounds generic — and it is — but it reminded me of how so often of how I find my favourite nature photographers. Often they are cameramen and women I’ve never heard of before. I end up stumbling over one of their images — I’m a restless reader, and constantly curious — and am moved and inspired for reasons I can’t quite pin down.

Photography — not just the taking of photographs, but being appreciative of other people’s work as a consumer — is subjective. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve come across the winner of a high-profile photography contest, and then seen the runners-up, and thought to myself: What were they thinking?

Nine times out of ten, I see a runner-up that, to my eye, is so much more revealing and emotionally stirring than the one the judges picked that I’m at a loss for words. Who’s to say one image is “better” than another, anyway? It comes down to personal taste, an instant reaction followed by a gut feeling and a dawning realization that one has just witnessed greatness, a seminal moment captured in time forevermore.

So often, when I think of “10 photos we liked this week,” I think of a single image, and then an entire portfolio of images by that photographer, once I check that person’s website, their past work and present work.

I’d be terrible at editing a “10 photos we liked this week” list because, inevitably, my list would feature 10 photos by the same photographer.

©Ami VItale

©Ami VItale

And this past week, that photographer was Ami Vitale.

I came across a web article by BBC News picture editor Phil Coomes, ‘Ami Vitale: A life devoted to photography’

http://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-43329546

and was immediately reminded of an image I had glimpsed briefly once before, while editing a blog item on this year’s World Press Photo Awards. Her picture of a ranger bonding with an orphaned baby elephant at the small, community-based Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya had just  been nominated in the environment category for this year’s awards. (The winners will be announced on April 12th in Amsterdam, followed by an exhibition at the World Press Photo Festival on April 13th and 14th.)

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

I read the piece by Phil Coomes, and Vitale struck a recurring chord in me. My own background is hard news — I came to nature photography in early retirement from daily journalism — and I was struck how Vitale started out as an intern at a small newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina in the early 1990s, around the time I started to cover municipal news in my local big-city newspaper-of-record. Vitale quit her job in North Carolina to pursue her dream of being a foreign correspondent; I, too, briefly entertained ambitions of one day being a foreign correspondent, early in my career. The difference is Vitale took a leap of faith and took the jump. She did a brief spell at a newspaper in the Czech Republic, then found herself covering the conflict in Kosovo. 

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

One of my first media interviews at the time was with CNN’s London-based correspondent and anchor Christiane Amanpour, who had made her own reputation covering the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1998.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/contributors/v/photographer-ami-vitale/

This is actually quite common for high-profile conservation and wildlife photographers. South Africa’s Brent Stirton, current holder of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award — sponsored by London’s Natural History Museum and the largest and most influential wildlife photo competition of its kind in the world — began his career as a  photojournalist covering famine, genocide and political upheavals in conflict zones throughout his home continent of Africa. Stirton won numerous prizes, including several citations from the United Nations for a long-term project he did based on the social, economic and political instability caused by the HIV-AIDS epidemic sweeping across Africa and the developing world at the time. Several years ago, in 2007, while covering an outbreak of violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he took a stirring image of a dead mountain gorilla being hauled out of its rainforest home by park rangers, and vowed to become a conservation photographer for the remainder of his career with a camera.

http://infocus.gettyimages.com/post/brent-stirton-the-photo-i-took-that-meant-the-most-to-me#.WqgwEoIh14Y

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

It’s no coincidence that Stirton, Steve Winter, Cristina Mittermeier — and Vitale herself — have done some of their finest, most stirring work for National Geographic. As Vitale  told BBC’s Coomes, she learned over time that she wanted to work on stories that bring people together and reflect life beyond the latest headline.

“The thing that struck me,” Vitale told Coomes, “after witnessing so much conflict and violence in my career is that every single issue I covered, whether it was war or poverty or health, always ended up being dependent on nature for its outcomes.”

Coomes’ interview with Vitale brought me in a roundabout way to her website (amivitale.com), and her striking portfolios of ‘Pandas Gone Wild’ (soon to be a book, Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas); ‘Montana Ranching Redefined’ (the state Vitale now calls home); ‘Kenya’s Last Rhinos,’ ‘Kashmir: Paths to Peace,’ ‘Coffee and Ethiopia,’ ‘Budapest Baths,’ ‘The Cost of Coal,’ ‘Gujarat,’ ’Cappadocia’ and ‘Israeli Palestinian Conflict.’

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

If asked right now to pick “10 photos I liked this week,” I’m afraid all 10 would be Vitale’s, as I only now devoted the better part of an hour poring through her images on her website. They’re, in a word, stunning.

The word is getting out. She will appear as a featured speaker this weekend (March 17) at The Photography Show in Birmingham in the UK, and is scheduled to talk as one of the featured NatGeo photographers in the National Geographic Live series, in Kitchener, Ontario on April 26th; Buffalo, NY on May 8th; and San Jose, Calif. the following night, on May 9th.

“The world is a beautiful place and we need to celebrate the goodness,” Vitale said in a TED Talk in Shanghai, two years ago. “It’s everywhere.”

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale


A passion for nature: The brave new world of conservation photography.

“Can a photograph change the world?” has become, “Can a photograph save the planet?”

More and more, nature and wildlife photographers prefer to label themselves as conservation photographers, in part to reflect the perilous state of the environment today, and in part because the word “conservation” suggests a bigger scale and broader reach.

“Conservation” sounds more important, somehow, though old-school nature photographers will argue that nature itself is the reason conservation matters. Nature, after all, provides the foundation on which conservation is built.

Voting has now closed for the People’s Choice Award in the 54th Annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, or WPOTY 54 in the photography community argot. Last year’s winners in all categories are on display at the Natural History Museum in London until May 28th; if past history holds, this year’s winners will be announced in October.

In a somewhat controversial decision — controversial to the outside world, that is, as the jury vote was unanimous, a first in the 50-year history of the WPOTY awards — the grand prize went to Getty Images photojournalist Brent Stirton for his gripping, tragic image of a slaughtered rhino. 

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Stirton’s background is hard news, not wildlife per se. After decades of covering conflict zones throughout his home continent of Africa — he cut his teeth photographing the anti-apartheid struggle in his native South Africa, before moving on to cover that country’s devastating HIV/AIDS crisis —  he says he had an epiphany 10 years ago, in 2017, after photographing DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) park rangers dragging a dead mountain gorilla out of the Virunga National Park rainforest, using makeshift ropes and heavy wooden beams. 

Stirton had just enough time to take three frames before he had to leave, because, as he told The Guardian in Oct., 2015, “The army were looking for me.”

1. brent stirton gorilla.png

Stirton vowed then and there to become a lifelong crusader for the environment, using what he knows best to document the plight of endangered species, ecosystems and vanishing cultures throughout the developing world.

The People’s Choice award, by definition, is a vote by the people, and all that that implies.

It’s unlikely a picture of a dead rhino with its horn unceremoniously sawed off with a chainsaw would make the final cut for the People’s Choice Award, even if the finalists were chosen by a judging panel first and then submitted to the general public for a vote.

Even so, it’s hard not to look at the finalists’ images — a handful of which appear below — and not view them through the prism of what’s happening right now in the world’s few remaining wild places. It’s tough to see an image of a mother polar bear huddling over her newborn cubs and not realize that, within 20 years, polar bears may vanish entirely, owing to the catastrophic — and accelerating — ice melt in the northern polar regions.

Big cats often make for dramatic photographs, but again it’s hard to see a picture of a tiger today and not be reminded  that it was the apex predators — the sabre-toothed cat, a remnant of the Pleistocene epoch for some 42 million years before dying out just 11,000 years ago, or the “super croc,” Sarcosuchus, an early ancestor of the crocodile, some 12 metres (39 feet) in length — that perished in the end, leaving their legacy to their smaller, more adaptable successors.

The difference now, of course, is that much of what’s happening is caused by human hands, and humans alone have the power to make a difference. Conservation photography is part of that.

This is not new. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln was famously so moved by Carleton Watkins’ stereographic illuminations of Yosemite, on the other side of the American continent, that he signed into law a bill declaring Yosemite Valley to be inviolable. Theodore Roosevelt enacted further protections in 1908, at the urging of his naturalist friend John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. Yosemite played a key role in Woodrow Wilson establishing the U.S. National Park Service in 1916.

Carleton Watkins, "View from Inspiration Point," 1879, ©Princeton University Art Museum

Carleton Watkins, "View from Inspiration Point," 1879, ©Princeton University Art Museum

Today, photographers who document the beauty and wonder of the natural world have an added responsibility — wanted or not — to shine a new, white-hot light on the crisis facing the planet today, whether it’s something as simple and life-affirming as a sloth hanging out in the rainforests of Brazil, or as complex and hard-to-take as the bloodied hand of a poacher handling an elephant tusk in Central Africa.

Both have a story to tell. They are different, and yet tragically connected. It’s good that people know that.


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THIS JUST IN — Jo-Anne McArthur's "Pikin and Appolinaire" has been declared the People's Choice. Word broke late last night from the UK.

A strong image from a strong field, and well-deserving of the recognition. The conservation message is profound, no?

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The year in pictures — not all opinions are equal.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is a time when we’re inundated with best-of lists and conversation starters about things to come. There’s almost too much to choose from, which is why we need curators — for everything from social media to the day’s news. Judgment, and taste, is everything. Not all opinions are equal, no matter how loudly and how often we’re told they are.

I disagreed strongly with the judges’ final choices in some high-profile photography awards this past year, but who am I to judge? I just know what I know. The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards got it right, in my opinion; other competitions, which I won’t name here, got it quite wrong.

That’s why I was more interested in some of the year-end collections of curated material by individual publications — not, “This is the best,” but rather, “These are our favourite pictures of everything we published this year.”

That’s why National Geographic editors’ 57 favourite images of the year — all published in the magazine at some point during 2017, and hardly an award winner among them — struck a nerve with me, chosen as they were from 88 photographers who worked on some 112 stories, accumulating a total of more than 2 million photographs.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/best-of-2017/best-pictures/

I learned more, too, that I didn’t know before from Nature’s “2017 in Pictures: The best science images of the year,” than I did from many other, more prominent periodicals.

 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-08492-y)

On one level, that’s to be expected, of course, because Nature, “the International Journal of Science,” is a peer-reviewed periodical. So a hitchhiking octopus, nanoscale fireworks and the “worm from hell” (the pork tapeworm, but you know it better as Taenia solium) become every bit as fascinating as anything on Animal Planet or NatGeo Wild.

©Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

©Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

 Anyone who reads this space regularly knows I’m more of a Guardian man than a Daily Mail man, and I don’t care who knows it.

That’s why I was gratified to see The Guardian, in its Boxing Day edition, do a summary of the year’s wildlife-photography competitions from around the planet, rather than one of those subjective, often parochial lists of, “These are our favourite images of those we happened to see.”

It’s worth noting that veteran photojournalist Brent Stirton’s controversial image of a rhino butchered for its horn — “Memorial to a Species” — won both the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and the World Press Photos award in the nature category. It’s not often that nature photography and photojournalism coincide.

©Brent Stirton.png

I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t note that, judging from comments on the WPOTY’s Facebook page, many animal lovers were annoyed — livid, in fact — that Stirton’s image won best-in-show.

 “How am I supposed to keep my child interested in nature,” went one refrain from an outraged mom, “if you promote such a disgusting image as yourbest-of? I couldn’t show my young daughter that picture. How is that helping anything?”

Another mom took a differening view, however, commenting on the Daily Mail’s message board, “The beauty and heartbreak in these pictures makes me proud that my daughter wants to pursue ecology and conservation as a career.”

Others pointed out — and I happen to agree — that nature photography isn’t just about big eyes and happy faces. There were better images in the final mix, both from a technical and a creative point-of-view, but few were as important.

Enough about me and my own personal opinions, though. Here’s an edited — curated, if you will — look at The Guardian’s year-end summary of award-winning images from around the world.

The complete version can be found at

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/dec/26/the-best-of-the-wildlife-photography-awards-2017-in-pictures

Interestingly — for me, anyway — if there’s one subject that unites many of these images, it’s our growing interest in the sea and the future of our oceans.

That isn’t just because of Blue Planet II. The legacy of the sea is a cause that runs deep.


©Gabriel Barathieu/The Guardian 2017

©Gabriel Barathieu/The Guardian 2017

©Francis Perez/The Guardian 2017

©Francis Perez/The Guardian 2017

©Thomas Peschak/The Guardian 2017

©Thomas Peschak/The Guardian 2017

©Troy Mayne/The Guardian 2017

©Troy Mayne/The Guardian 2017

©Jaime Rojo/The Guardian 2017

©Jaime Rojo/The Guardian 2017

©Andrew Parkinson/The Guardian 2017

©Andrew Parkinson/The Guardian 2017

©Bence Máté/The Guardian 2017

©Bence Máté/The Guardian 2017

©Britta Jaschinski/The Guardian 2017

©Britta Jaschinski/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Stenberg/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Stenberg/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Trim/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Trim/The Guardian 2017


Can a single image change the planet? Just ask Brent Stirton, winner of 2017’s Wildlife Photographer of Year award.

Brent Stirton’s haunting image of a dead rhino, killed and butchered for its horn, was already widely known before it won Tuesday’s top honour at the 53rd Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards.

Stirton, a lifelong documentarian and senior staff photographer with Getty Images’ Reportage unit, photographed an eye-opening spread for National Geographic — both the magazine and the website — before rhinos became the tipping point of the worldwide conservation movement.

Stirton won the top award after earlier winning in the photojournalism category before a black-tie audience at London’s Natural History Museum.

Winners in each category faced off for the WPOTY equivalent of best-in-show, capping a confusing process in which a dozen semi-finalists were released to the media last month. The fact that Stirton’s image was even in the running — it was curiously omitted from September’s selection, along with several other finalists for the top award — would have been a clue right there as to the eventual winner. As jury chair Lewis Blackwell told the assembled audience, the final decision was unanimous.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

That in itself may well be a first for a photo contest involving a panelled jury — judging photography is subjective, after all, and subject to individual, personal tastes — but then hardly anyone looking at Stirton’s image, either for the first time or after multiple viewings, can fail to be moved.

Stirton is no dilettante who got lucky. Luck plays a huge role in wildlife photography — that, and patience and a willingness to put in the hours — but in this case Stirton called on a lifetime of placing himself in life-threatening situations, camera at the ready.

His CV reads like a modern-day Robert Capa of combat photographers. Stirton works on a semi-regular basis for the Global Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the Ford, Clinton and Gates foundations, and the World Economic Forum. He’s on the road an average 300 days out of the year. His work has been published in Time, Newsweek, The Sunday Times Magazine, Geo, The New York Times Magazine, as well as by Human Rights Watch andCNN.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

A Canon ambassador, he has won the prestigious World Press Photo seven times, as well receiving citations and plaudits from the Overseas Press Club, Days Japan, the Deadline Club, China International, Graphis, the American Society of Publication Designers, Germany’s (news) Lead Awards and the London Association of Photographers. In addition, Stirton has two United Nations honours to his name, for his exposés on the global environment, and for his photo essays on the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS.

He has said photojournalists strive every day to find new ways to tell an old story. And the trade in illegal wildlife trafficking is an old story indeed.

In his own work, Stirton consciously looks for images that will move people and galvanize them to action, in ways that extend beyond the 24-hour news cycle.

The single image that changed his life, he said, came in 2007, when he witnessed park rangers with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Virunga National Park anti-poaching unit hauling the bodies of four mountain gorillas — one of the world’s most critically endangered animals — following their deaths under suspicious cicrumstances. 

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

One of the gorillas was a silverback alpha male and the leader of the group. The others were females, two of them with babies and the third one pregnant at the time. The babies were never found; it is thought they probably died of stress and dehydration.

Stirton went about his work clinically andprofessionally, but deep down he was both shaken and angered. He resolved then-and-there to use his camera to expose and document the illegal wildlife trade, for the rest of his career in photography.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

“The image of the dead silverback gorilla in Congo transformed my thinking about photojournalism and the environment,” Stirton posted on Getty’s InFocus page.  “It got a huge reaction that I totally wasn’t expecting. The reason that image affected me so much was that it was a genuine crossover photograph that talked about both conflict and the environment in a single frame. It made me realize how connected those two things are.”

Though based in New York, Stirton’s recent work has focused on his home continent of Africa, everything from unexplained mass die-offs of hippos to the massacre of elephants for their ivory, to the recent, dramatic spike in rhino poaching for their horns.

It’s not often that Stirton is caught at a loss for words, he told his audience Tuesday, after the top award was announced.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

“I have huge admiration for all those of you who go out and spend months in a single place, in tremendously difficult conditions, trying to take a unique picture of wildlife,” he said. “I look at these images as the reason behind my work. . . . My job is to reinforce the magnificence of these creatures.’ These pictures are evidence of their magnificence.

“I always think that photojournalism is the red-headed stepchild of the photography world, when it comes to wildlife. I always have that in my mind. So for you to think this of me, for the kind of work I do, in this space — I’m blown away.”

‘Blown away’ is as apt a way as any to describe his image of the dead rhino.

https://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/brent-stirton


©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton


Not just a pretty picture: Wildlife Photographer of Year Awards strive to save the planet.

A saved but caged Sumatran tiger. A tiny seahorse clinging to a discarded Q-tip cotton swab to swim downstream. Anemone fish showing off parasitic isopods that live inside their mouths (banner, above). An Arctic fox carrying a stolen egg. An elephant matriarch caught in repose after she’s led her herd to water during a dry spell.

These are the finalists in the 53rd annual running of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, to be presented Tuesday night at La black-tie ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum.

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The awards feature categories ranging from animal portrait to emerging young photographers, aged 11-14. One of the distinguishing features of this year’s competition is that two of the 13 finalists for Wildlife Photograph of the year — the WPOTY equivalent of best-in-show — come from the young age group: Laura Albiac Vilas’ blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of a rare Iberian lynx in Spain’s Sierra de Andújar Natural Park, and Ashleigh Scully’s serendipitous capture of a bear cub hugging its mother in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park.

©Ashleigh Scully/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Ashleigh Scully/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

As in past years, though, it’s the environmental awareness images — the photos that trigger an emotional and intellectual debate about habitat destruction, climate change and the sixth mass extinction — that are causing the biggest stir. Veteran National Geographic big-cat specialist Steve Winter’s image of an adolescent Sumatran tiger snarling in a cage, shortly after having a badly damaged leg amputated, and California photographer Justin Hofman’s image of a seahorse swimming against a sea of muck, are standouts.

©Justin Hofman/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Justin Hofman/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Hofman’s seahorse, in particular, has gone viral, in part because it’s an artistically striking image — brilliant colour rendition and near-perfect compositional balance — and primarily because it tells such a vital story.

“It’s a photo I wish didn’t exist but now that it does, I want everyone to see it,” Hofman posted on his Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/justinhofman/). “What started as a cute opportunity to photograph a cute little seahorse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage.”

Hofman captured the image off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, where he happened to be diving at the time. As striking to the eye as the image is, it tells a disturbing story about the daily travails of marine life living in seas and oceans choked by human and industrial pollution.

“This seahorse drifts along with the trash day in and day out as it rides the currents that flow along the Indonesian archipelago,” Hofman continued on Instagram. “This (image) serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?”

Indonesia is increasingly in the environmental crosshairs. Winter’s injured tiger was captured in Indonesia; last year’s winning WPOTY image, captured by Tokyo-born National Geographic wildlife photojournalist Tim Laman, was of an Indonesian orangutan — critically endangered, owing to the wholesale destruction of its forest habitat. In a 2015 Environmental Health Perspectives study, Indonesia ranked second only to China among the world’s largest producers of marine pollution on the planet, thanks to more than 3 million metric tons of plastic waste dumped into the ocean every year.

©Tim Laman/2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Tim Laman/2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Hofman hopes his photo will shake people’s complacency and help galvanize change.

This year’s 13 finalists were chosen from a shortlist of 100 images, themselves culled from more than 50,000 entries from 92 countries around the world.

London’s Natural History Museum will present a full exhibition of images from Oct. 20 through the spring, in the hopes that, to paraphrase the late jazz great Louis Armstrong, humanity may once again see skies of blue and clouds of white, the bright blessed day and dark sacred night, so we may collectively once again be able to think to ourselves, what a wonderful world.

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year   

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

 

©Sergey Gorshkov/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year   

©Sergey Gorshkov/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

 


A bolshie speaks! Save the planet first, then save the elephants.

Yes, yes, environment writer Lucy Siegle wrote this past weekend in the Sunday Observer: It’s all very chic to save the elephant — or the rhino or cheetah, for that matter — but what about the world?

In a heartfelt essay, Siegle singled out the likes of UK environment minister Michael Gove and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge — the créme de la créme of the chattering classes — as being little more than dilettantes, figurehead conservationists drawn to high-profile campaigns to save icon species like so many moths to the flame. 

©Adnan Abidi/AP

©Adnan Abidi/AP

Siegle admitted her stance will get her disinvited to any number of black-tie environmental soirées — no canapés at the Natural History Museum for you! — but the real world of conservation, she argued, is gritty, grimy and decidedly unglamourous.

It didn’t help the optics that last week’s announcement that Britain’s Conservative government is widening its ivory ban to include ivory carvings made prior to 1947 — dropped from the Tories’ recent election manifesto — kicked off a weekend of elephant celebrations that included “a copcktail and canapé send-off for a fleet of 50 Gujarati Chagda bikes under the Travels to My Elephant initiative, attended by the Duchess of Cambridge, and the Warrior Games promising (retired) Maasai spears and Maasai photographs taken by Jack Brockway (Richard Branson’s nephew) in the company of HRH Eugenie.”

Bolshie! Satisfying as it may be, though, to see the upper classes brought down a peg or two, there’s a sober point here. Framing the ecological debate through a single species can seem myopic when the future of the entire planet is at stake. Scientists warnthat we have already triggered the sixth great mass extinction. This one is different, too, because it’s the first mass extinction of our own making. There’s not much point in saving the elephant if there are no savannahs left in Africa or Asia for them to roam.

©Biplab Hazra-Nature InFocus

©Biplab Hazra-Nature InFocus

There’s more to saving the orangutan, in other words, than throwing a black-tie soirée or sponsoring a 10K run through the smog-choked streets of London. Environmental activism is messy, grubby and often nasty. 

“If your gateway to environmentalism is saving a big beast, great,” Siegle argued in the Sunday Observer. “But (your) next move needs to be switching your bank account so that your money is no longer funding the destroyers of Sumatran forests for palm oil.”

Whenever a nob, a royal or another standing member of posh society lectures the unwashed on the merits of saving elephants, or whatever the icon species-of-the-moment happens to be, Siegle says that, to her, the great unspoken question — the elephant in the room, if you will — is: “When did your family stop hunting big game and decide to save it?’

Bolshie! Sometimes, though, even bolshies have a point.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/07/it-is-chic-to-save-the-elephant-but-what-about-the-world

©Hilary O'Leary/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Hilary O'Leary/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year