Natural History Museum

Reflections of humanity at its best and worst: 2019 World Press Photo Award winners.

If it’s true that a picture tells a thousand words, I’m not about to repeat 1,000 words here telling you about this year’s winners of the World Press Photo Awards. “Show, don’t tell,” as they say in the media business.

What’s more pertinent is why these images won, and what it tells us about the world we live in today. 

Getty Images senior staff photographer and special correspondent John Moore won World Press Photo of the Year for his affecting image of a young girl crying at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Swedish photojournalist Pieter Ten Hoopen, of Paris-based agency Agence VU — he also founded the Stockholm-based non-governmental organization Civilian Act — won the World Press Award for Photo Story of the Year, for his series of images depicting the Migrant Caravan of refugees on their passage through Central America, from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to that same U.S.-Mexico border and the possibility of asylum in America — on a wing and a prayer, as it were.

World Press Photo, in other words, an independent nonprofit that supports photojournalism worldwide, has judged that the displacement of people — ordinary, everyday human beings, including many vulnerable children — is the single most important issue facing our time.

Human migration, and climate change.

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

People who think — or are willing to think, at any rate — know that, deep down, below the surface, climate change is one of the main factors driving mass migration. Climate change results in food insecurity, both caused and exacerbated by weather-related disasters such as droughts, floods and hurricanes, leads to poverty and, inevitably, crime and political instability. Everything is connected — and these pictures tell us that.

Veteran conservation photographer Brent Stirton — a former war correspondent and conflict-zone photographer originally based in South Africa — was recognized with the World Press Photo Environment Award for his striking image of a female special forces park ranger in Zimbabwe, part of an all-female anti-poaching unit, the Akashinga, tasked with stopping the illegal slaughter of rhinos for their horn.

And veteran Hungarian photojournalist Bence Máté, like Stirton a former winner of the London (UK) Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award, won the World Press Photo Nature Award for his sobering image of frogs with severed legs being tossed back into the water after being shorn of their limbs for food, in the Carpathian mountain region of Romania.

Overconsumption. Mass migration, brought on by human desperation. The despoiling of the planet.

These are the issues that jump out. (Interestingly, Moore was a double winner for his image of the crying girl at the U.S.-Mexico border: The picture also won the World Press Photo Award for Spot News.)

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

There is a point to these images, beyond preaching to the converted. Hope for humanity, even — the better angels of our nature. The state of the planet has never appeared more grim and desperate — not in the history and evolution of Home sapiens, at any rate — and yet these images serve a dual purpose. Uplifting, as well as alarming and cautionary. Understanding them is crucial to knowing and understanding the situation we are now all in. I saw the friendliest of spirits, one witness has said of public marches of public conscience, these streams of humanity marching along the open road and crowding into town squares. There’s an openness, a willingness there, among those on the march, to comfort children, share food, find spaces for older people to sit and rest — small acts of tenderness and mercy, and of humanity.

Perhaps that’s the real strength of these images — not as yet another reason to feel depressed, but rather a clarion call to action, to do something.

There are those in the mainstream media who will dismiss these World Press Photo Awards as yet another example of belabouring the obvious, more grandstanding by the left — but those who took these photos, who witnessed the worst, and best, of what humanity has to offer, know better.

These images appear to tell a simple story on the surface. Look deeper down, though, and they tell a very different story. It is time to challenge those who would do evil.

https://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photocontest/winners/2019

@WorldPressPhoto - Twitter


©John Moore/Getty Images

©John Moore/Getty Images

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards


©Pieter Ten Hoopen/Agence VU

©Pieter Ten Hoopen/Agence VU

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards


©Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

©Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

©World Press Photo Awards.

©World Press Photo Awards.

©World Press Photo Awards.

©World Press Photo Awards.


©Bence Máté

©Bence Máté

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards

©World Press Photo Awards




The “eye of the beholder” and award competitions: When seeing is not always believing.

Another internationally juried photo prize, another controversy — another scandal.

Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong Wee Kee’s haunting image of a partially blind Vietnamese woman carrying her baby won top honours — and the USD $120,000 prize that came with it — at the 2019 Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA) in Dubai.

Ong’s vision was judged to be the most representative of this year’s theme, “Hope,” and there’s an undeniable human quality to the image, its depiction of sadness and loss, coupled with one person’s determination to survive, despite the challenges.

©Edwin Ong Wee Kee

©Edwin Ong Wee Kee

As reported on PetaPixel, though, according to those who were there at the March 12 ceremony, the announcement was greeted with several eye-rolls, mutterings and murmurs of thinly veiled irritation. Here we go again with the poverty porn, they seemed to be saying.

The term “poverty porn” has been used to describe photographers’ fixation on images of people struggling to survive desperate circumstances. These images are considered safe to do because to dismiss the image is to dismiss the subject, and who in good conscience would do that?

©Brent Stirton/WPOTY53/Getty Images

©Brent Stirton/WPOTY53/Getty Images

There’s a growing feeling in the photography community, though, that creativity — looking at familiar subjects in new, unfamiliar ways — should count for more than always taking the safe and obvious route, especially when it comes to internationally recognized competitions.

Any announcement of a major award, especially one with money involved, is bound to be greeted with catcalls. Judging is subjective, after all. My choice may not be yours. Cynics are everywhere, and it’s always easier to disagree than to agree. Safe choices are safe for a reason: People like them, and photo juries tend to agree. When a rare, controversial choice is made — South African photographer Brent Stirton’s image of a slaughtered rhino winning the prestigious 53rd annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year award being a prime example — the resulting public disagreement, and the bad press that comes with it, can scare future juries away from making similar choices. 

The Wildlife Photographer jury opted for a much safer image in this year’s awards, picking Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten’s portrait of two rare golden snub-nosed monkeys in China's Qinling mountains, over a field of nominees that included SeaLegacy photographer Justin Hofman’s unforgettable — and hard to look at — image of a starving polar bear in Canada’s far north.

©Marsel van Oosten/WPOTY54

©Marsel van Oosten/WPOTY54

The Hamdan International Photography Award was bound to have its detractors, in other words, no matter what image was chosen.

But then the other shoe dropped, and a controversy became a scandal.

It turns out the photo was probably staged. The seemingly natural image — with its echoes of Steve McCurry’s famous National Geographic cover shot of “the Afghan Girl” — was one of several taken by a group of photographers at a photo-op session organized by fellow photographer Ab Rashid.

Ong defended his image to the Malaysian daily The Star, telling the paper, “In this trip to Vietnam, we (photographers) went to the rice field and there was a mother (with her children) that passed by. We never told her to stand up or sit down.”

©PetaPixel/Ab Rashid (right)

©PetaPixel/Ab Rashid (right)

Strictly speaking, Ong never violated any rules of the contest: Unlike some juried photo competitions, the  Hamdan Photography Award doesn’t require photographers to sign a claim that prohibits staging or, in the case of nature photography competitions like the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer awards, that the subject be free-ranging, in its natural habitat. Unlike the World Press Photo Awards — itself a lightning rod for recent controversy — the Hamdan Award doesn’t demand that photographers follow the principles and ethics of professional photojournalism, with its emphasis on hard news.

Recent past winners of the Hamdan Award show an understandable bias towards photojournalism, though, and it’s easy to see why: These are the images that reflect the world as it is, not necessarily as we want it to be.

©Mohammed Alragheb/Hamdan International Photography Awards

©Mohammed Alragheb/Hamdan International Photography Awards

Even so, there’s something unsettling knowing that an image was, if not staged exactly, certainly posed, when comparisons to actual, genuine photojournalism are not just implied but obvious for all to see.

In a thoughtful essay on PetaPixel, Yale University graduate, iTunes podcaster and PhotoShelter co-founder Allen Murabayashi suggests the problem isn’t the contest but us, as a society.

“We feel duped,” he wrote, “not necessarily because the image may or may not have been directed. We feel duped because Ong took the image with a gaggle of other photographer of a young, impoverished mother in a way that feels creepily reminiscent of a mid-20th-century all-male camera club hiring a female model.”

We live in an Instagram culture of algorithm-generated clicks that encourages “likes” and feeds on our collective vanity and search for validation.

“The same people who decry contests use platforms like Twitter and Facebook to build their own followings,” Murabayashi said, “while chasing retweets and likes of their own.”

©Ab Rashid/PetaPixel

©Ab Rashid/PetaPixel

Our collective fascination with the pain and suffering of those less fortunate than ourselves is harder to reconcile. A powerful image of someone in distress can raise awareness and generate much-needed funding for relief efforts — we can’t rely on Western and particularly US politicians to do the right thing — but there’s also that disquieting feeling that it’s amoral to celebrate suffering in the form of competitions that provide a cash prize — in some cases a significant cash prize, as with the Hamdan Award — to the winners.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, any monetary reward should go to the subject, at least in part.

There’s an upside to the Hamdan Award as is, Murabayashi suggests.

“If nothing else, maybe increased awareness of the world’s richest photo contest will attract a whole new wave of photographers doing important, long-term work.”

Perhaps. As long as photo captions — and juried competitions — don’t explicitly explain whether an image was natural or posed, though, questions will remain. Troubling questions. 

https://petapixel.com/2019/03/18/the-winning-photo-of-the-120k-hipa-prize-was-apparently-staged/


Later: Here’s an interesting thought.

In the stream of comments posted on PetaPixel and other sites in the wake of the “posed photo” revelation, more than one person suggested the behind-the-scenes image below tells a more topical, relevant story than the actual image that won the Hamdan Award.

It has certainly kickstarted a more far-reaching conversation about the relationship between photographer and subject, and how the haves often exploit the have-nots for their own purposes, regardless of motive.

That’s not news, of course — or won’t be to anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of how the world works — but it’s worth talking about in the open, in online chat forums and other public spaces, and not behind closed doors in sequestered photo-jury rooms.

Another interesting question: How many of these  photographers pictured here got exactly the same image, but didn’t think to submit it to an international photo competition?

How original is originality supposed to be, anyway?

After all, the eye of the beholder doesn’t add up to much if everyone sees the same thing.

Food for thought.

©PetaPixel

©PetaPixel




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



Rare black leopard caught on camera in Kenya. So, who deserves the credit?

Who was the first person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest? History records that it was Sir Edmund Hillary, on May 29, 1953, but purists have always wondered if his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, was the first to actually set foot on the summit. Hillary addressed this issue directly in an interview with National Geographic Adventurer contributing editor David Roberts in April, 2003, in a story titled “50 Years on Everest.”

“When we came out toward Kathmandu, there was a very strong political feeling, particularly among the Indian and Nepalese press, who very much wanted to be assured that Tenzing was first,” Sir Edmund recalled. “That would indicate that Nepalese and Indian climbers were at least as good as foreign climbers. We felt quite uncomfortable with this at the time. John Hunt, Tenzing, and I had a little meeting. We agreed not to tell who stepped on the summit first.

“To a mountaineer, it’s of no great consequence who actually sets foot first. Often the one who puts more into the climb steps back and lets his partner stand on top first.”

You may be wondering what the story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on Mt. Everest has to do with a series of stunning photos published in the past 10 days of a rare black leopard on Kenya’s central Laikipia Plateau, but there is a connection.

It has to do with shared credit, and what the protocol is when a hard-earned wildlife photograph goes viral on social media and becomes front-page news for major news organizations around the world.

Who deserves credit? The person who took the photograph of a rare animal, or the person who found that rare animal in the first place.

©Will Burrard-Lucas 2019

©Will Burrard-Lucas 2019

It’s how that news was reported — on the BBC World News’ main website, for one— that the controversy started. 

Veteran UK nature photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, who leads photo expeditions of his own in Africa for avid shutterbugs and animal lovers, captured the startling image of a black panther — actually a regular leopard with a rare melanistic gene that causes the fur to appear black, though not a pure black exactly but grey, which is why the leopard’s spots, or rosettes, are clearly visible against the background fur when — using a remote-controlled trap camera. It was a local Samburu tracker and research assistant with the San Diego Zoo Global outreach NGO, Ambrose Letoluai, however, who knew where to find the leopard and told Burrard-Lucas where best to set the camera. LetoluaLetoluaii has lived his entire life in Koija, a small  village which borders Loisaba Conservancy, and was hired as a leopard researcher after recalling tales elders in his community had told him about black leopards being common on the Laikipia Plateau.

©Will Burrard-Lucas 2019

©Will Burrard-Lucas 2019

San Diego Zoo Global researchers, working with biologist Dr. Nicholas Pilfold, Ph.D deployed remote cameras as part of a larger-scale study aimed at understanding the population dynamics of leopards on conservation land that, like much of northern Kenya, is shared by both wildlife and pastoral cattle herders. Human-wildlife conflict is inevitable where goats and calves encounter an apex predator like a leopard, and researchers believe more needs to be known about wild animals’ habits if they are to have a chance to survive. Leopards are not critically endangered, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as “vulnerable” on its official Red List of threatened species.

Black panthers have always held a special place in the human imagination, in part because they’re seen so rarely and in part because they’re such a familiar symbol in popular culture.

Burrard-Lucas got wind of the Laikipia program and its trap cameras, and decided to try to fulfil a lifelong dream to capture a black panther, if not on film exactly, on-camera. Letoluai was his assigned minder — his Sherpa, if you will — and the subsequent images, part luck, part good timing and part insider knowledge, exceeded their expectations.

So far, so good.

The mainstream media like nothing better than a good story, though, and while “Night-time Photos of a Rare Black Leopard” might sound like a good story to some people, “First Black Leopard Spotted in 100 Years” sounds much better.

©Twitter / Will Burrard-Lucas

©Twitter / Will Burrard-Lucas

In a media climate desperate for some good news about the environment for a change, rare photos of an animal that hasn’t been seen for a century is a headline grabber.

There’s just one problem. It wasn’t true. Local media in Kenya, among them photojournalist and staff photographer Phoebe Okall of the Nairobi Daily Nation newspaper, had captured images of a black leopard in the wild just a few years ago.

Many Kenyans, politically sensitive toward any perceived slight by westerners in the post-colonial era of independence, saw this as a double insult: Ambrose Letoluai was being given enough credit for finding the black leopard on BBC World’s main news site, and local, Kenyan photojournalists were not being given any credit for having captured images of black leopards on not one but several occasions prior to “the first capture in 100 years.”

Burrard-Lucas, for his part, found himself caught in the middle. What should have been the crowning achievement of his photographic career — and still might — is suddenly at the centre of an increasingly noisy and fractious controversy.

He posted an immediate clarification on his website: He never said it was the first photo of a black leopard in 100 years. That was something the media added, for effect. He was also more than willing to credit Letoluai  for his work in setting up the camera trap — it’s quite common, and perfectly acceptable, for nature photographers to credit the guides who take them to the rare animals in the first place.

©Ambrose Letoluai 2019

©Ambrose Letoluai 2019

Earlier this week, a reasoned, thoughtful, well-researched — and properly sourced — article in the Washington Post, by general assignment reporters Alex Horton and Reis Thebault, sought to put an end to the controversy by outlining exactly what happened, who did what, where, how, why and, importantly, when.

The damage is done, though, and the outrage on social media sites like Twitter, mostly from Kenyans proud of their heritage and the wild animals they know as their own, continues unabated, even today.

Perhaps, if and when Burrard-Lucas’ images are recognized at some of the big wildlife photo awards, such as the UK Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards in October — which I suspect they just may — Burrard-Lucas and Letoluai can accept together, in person, much like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay before them.

Enough about that, for now. Here, then, are some key links to the controversy, as it unfolded.

https://www.camtraptions.com/black-leopard.html

https://naloolo.com/2019/02/14/how-a-24-year-old-samburu-warrior-captured-images-of-kenyas-black-leopard/?fbclid=IwAR10jnCgSeIiOomn8po_x1MeFEoIwzMjbvtJb-XuW9yN9AByDpkyPNRYn-E


https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/02/13/black-leopard-photos-are-definitely-not-first-years/?utm_term=.7f87481a31e1


Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018: The experts have spoken. Now it’s the people’s turn.

It’s a known fact: People trust customer reviews more than they do critics. As one influencer posted recently on Review Trackers — not exactly an unbiased source, as any objective, professional journalist worth their salt, would point out — “So it’s between the New York Times and Yelp.”

The academia website academia.edu recently asked — somewhat rhetorically — if consumer critics write differently from professional critics, while the self-explanatory site “Coaching for Leaders” (coachingforleaders.com) named “3 Differences Between Feedback and Criticism” (the Dale Carnegie principle: ‘Don’t criticize, condemn or complain’).

All of which is a roundabout way of taking a second look at the 54th annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, announced just last week.

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons


I was fairly critical — and I stand by my criticism — of the judging committee’s choice for the top image this year, which favoured the safe and comfortable over last year’s daring and, some would say, controversial and inappropriate choice of a poached rhino, slaughtered for its horn, worth an estimated USD $120,000 on today’s black market. (Why ground powder from rhino horn, made of the same material — keratin — as our fingernails, should be so valuable to a primarily Asian market, and it is strictly an Asian market we’re talking about here, is a topic for a whole other debate.) One idea holds that wildlife photography awards should celebrate the beauty of nature; the other holds that, in the environmental catastrophe facing humankind and planet Earth today, the top award is better suited as a deliberate provocation, urging us to wake up and shake us out of our complacency.

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

Any award calling itself “the People’s Choice” wears its intention clearly and on its sleeve, though. Every year, following the WPOTY’s black-tie awards dinner at London’s Natural History Museum, the “Oscars of wildlife photography awards,” as they’ve been called, the judging committee announces 24 images shortlisted for the People’s Choice Award, which is announced the following February (voting for this year’s edition closes Dec. 13). Each visitor to the Natural History Museum’s website is allowed one vote, and one vote only. (This isn’t America’s Got Talent, where you can vote early and often, in almost as many different ways as you can think of.)

Anything open to the general public is driven by emotion, not reason.

That’s positive emotion, though. One of this year’s shortlisted finalists, of a starving polar bear, went viral around the world earlier this year. It sparked a lively and at times bitter debate about humankind’s effect on climate change in the polar regions. (Climate deniers refused to accept that the melting polar caps could have anything to do with a starving polar bear, et alone that humans might be responsible.) The image, by SeaLegacy conservation photographer Justin Hofman, is undeniably powerful, and has already proved influential, but I suspect it won’t win the people’s vote. (In his caption, titled “A Polar Bear’s Struggle,” Hofman admits his entire body was pained as he witnessed the starving bear scavenge for food at an abandoned hunter’s in the Canada’s high Arctic; the bear could barely stand under its own power, Hofman recalled.)

©Justin Hofman / SeaLegacy

©Justin Hofman / SeaLegacy


There’s nothing wrong, in this case, with favouring beauty over fragility. Inspiration works in wondrous, often mysterious ways. In a world beset by grim, increasingly bleak news — everything from climate change and dwindling food resources to a new mass extinction — one can’t fault people for looking for a ray of light in the darkness, wherever that light may be found.

As the Natural History Museum’s own guidelines for the Lumix People’s Choice award points out, they’re looking for a winning image that “puts nature in the frame,” something that reflects the beauty and fragility of the natural world — with the emphasis, I’m guessing, on “beauty.”

A conservation-photographer acquaintance and occasional travel companion tells me he’s doubtful of people’s choice awards as a rule, since a public vote tends to favour those finalists who have a sizeable social media following, and he has a point.

Still, as someone who pays attention to customer reviews — I’ve personally known a number of professional critics, in different fields, who are so screwed up I’m not sure I’d trust their judgment of anything, let alone something I care about — I’m always curious to see where popular tastes lie.

I’ve yet to decide which image I’ll be voting for myself, but I have narrowed my choice down to three or four candidates. I have until next month to make my final decision — and you to, too, if you choose to participate.

As with any vote, though, remember: If you don’t vote, when you had the chance, you can’t complain afterwards, if the vote didn’t go the way you want.

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/wpy/community/peoples-choice/2018/index.html

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the world's most prestigious nature photography competition (WildlifePhotographerOfTheYear.com). This year’s finalists and winners, some 100 images in all, are on display at  London’s Natural History Museum from now until June 30, 2019. See  nhm.ac.uk/wpy for tickets.

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54

©Natural History Museum / WPOTY 54






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.”

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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


The images that force you to look away are often the most effective: National Geographic photographer Steve Winter.

It’s the images you don’t want to see — the ones that make you want to turn the page — that are most important to Steve Winter.

The career National Geographic photographer, a past recipient of the UK Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year top honour — and a nominee again this past year, in the environmental awareness category — doesn’t see his role so much as inspiring a love for nature as galvanizing people to action. And as much as his photos of tiger moms playing with their cubs have moved a generation of National Geographic readers over his 35-year-plus career as a cameraman specializing in big cats in the wild, he sees his role now as warning the world that planet Earth’s remaining wild cats — all of them — are in serious trouble.

Winter’s pioneering work with jaguars in the jungles and riverine rainforests of Brazil — he was the first staff photographer in National Geographic history to do a photo essay for the magazine on the world’s third-largest and arguably most elusive big cat — is on full display in NatGeo’s December, 2017 issue, in an article headed “Kingdom of the Jaguar.” 

Winter didn’t want the article to be another photo essay on the natural history of South America’s most elusive jungle predator but rather a carefully researched treatise on the threats faced by jaguars in the wild, from development projects to poaching, and the effect the jaguar’s population crash is having on local indigenous culture and heritage.

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

In a wide-ranging, exclusive sit-down conversation this past summer in Los Angeles, Winter — fresh off a plane from Peru — explained that while he appreciates Sir David Attenborough’s assessment during a 60 Minutes interview that nobody wants to be told the world is going to hell and it’s all their fault, it’s time for all of us realize what’s happening behind the camera on all those pretty pictures.

“I believe you have to find a way to show the reality that these animals are living,” Winter said. “Because that narrow view of a mouse jumping around on a blade of grass that I just saw on Planet Earth II yesterday is just that — a narrow view of that animal’s world. But beyond that, the world could be different.”

As an example, Winter cited his photography of tigers in the wild, a lifelong project that has seen him visit most of India and Nepal’s major wildlife parks over a 30-year period.

“I’m doing tigers,” he recalled, “and I keep hearing about Tadoba, Tadoba, Tadoba. Taboba Tiger Reserve. So, I see pictures of Tadoba. And they’re regular old tiger pictures, nothing unusual. 

“Then, one day, I’m driving up to the park gate and I’m surrounded by the biggest coal mine I’ve ever seen in my life. Open pit. And at the edge of that coal mine is the beginning of this tiger reserve. Now that tiger reserve is under direct threat because of the coal mine — but I’ve never, ever seen a photograph of it.

©Dhiraj Singh/Greenpeace

©Dhiraj Singh/Greenpeace

“So I go in, take pictures, then we do a video for Nat Geo, and I go in again. No one questions me because I’m a westerner. I stand on top of a rise, wait for these giant trucks to come by with tires as big as this ceiling. 

“I feel that that’s important, because you have to understand that all the protected areas in India lie on top of these coal reserves and they have a new prime minister, Manmohan Singh Narendra Modi, who would like to go in and take that.

“Now if you don’t realize the extent of that, that if you walk back not that far from the border of the park you’d fall into one of the biggest mine pits I’ve ever seen — if you don’t know that exists — then you can’t put those two things together. This reserve is under threat, and that’s important because this is the stronghold, the foundation for all the other wild tigers on the face of the earth.

“By telling people about that, you’re not beating anybody over the head. You’re just showing people the reality of the situation. We have problems. We also have solutions. I’m one of the most positive guys on the face of the earth. But I do not believe that if I just showed you these pristine tiger families and their cubs, without telling you about the other issues, I’m not doing my job. The story that needs to be told about tigers is completely different than any story we’ve heard. That was a long answer, but, you know, it’s important that people know this. “

S.Winter Tigers-Forever book cover.jpg

Winter began his career as a traditional photojournalist, covering the world’s hot spots and recording the remains of vanishing cultures. He came to nature photography late in life; he estimates he didn’t see his first big cat in the wild until he was in his early 30s. Interestingly enough, given the subject matter of his photo essay for this month’s National Geographic, that cat turned out to be a jaguar. And a black jaguar at that, that scratched at his screen door late one night while he was overnighting in the rainforests of Guatemala.

It was a very different animal, though, in a very different part of the world, that made him realize the power of those disturbing photos that make you want to turn the page.

“The pictures you don’t want to look at are very important,” Winter said. “Those are the images that have done more in my career than any other. Because I saw how they propelled people to action.

“The best example I can think of, from early in my career, was when I did a story on the Kamchatka bears. We were invited by this outfitter to come to this hunting camp in Alaska. They were losing all these 14-, 15-foot bears. The guy knew why; I just don’t think he wanted to admit it. It was because they had a guaranteed hunt, which means nobody would leave without a dead bear. A bear trophy. Obviously, they were killing everything, including young females.

“I had a picture of all these skinned bears, the heads sitting in the snow, with bare teeth, skinned heads. It couldn’t have been more gross. The heads were getting ready to go into the hot springs, which would get all the dead meat off, leaving a perfectly clean skull, courtesy of mother nature. 

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

“Well, right off the bat, that project got a hundred grand. It turns out each hunting outfit was counting each bear three times. So they thought they had three times more bears than they actually had.

“I saw then that the pictures that make people want to turn the page actually brought about more change for that specific species than any of the pretty pictures that I could have gotten.”

Winter’s most famous image — by far — was of a wild mountain lion living literally in the Hollywood Hills, surrounded by a metropolitan area of some 10 million residents. Winter used a camera trap, a technique he pioneered decades earlier while doing a story on the elusive snow leopard in the mountains of Nepal. 

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

“The photo of the Hollywood cougar galvanized the people of LA,” Winter recalled. “The image on the front page of the LA Times excited people. It made them realize they live in such a huge metropolitan area, and yet there is actually a mountain lion in an eight-square-mile park.

“There were maybe only five people who’d truly ever seen that cat with their own eyes, and yet there are 10 million visitors a year to that park. That really woke people up.”

In a post later this week, Winter expounds on what makes a great photograph; on how camera traps changed the game, both for him personally and for conservation photography in general; on when he felt most awkward while on the job; on what it feels like to return to civilization after weeks and even months in the wilderness; on what National Geographic meant to him growing up as a small boy in rural Indiana, and what the society has brought to the world today; on the special challenges posed by jaguars; and why he now considers the lecture circuit to be his greatest calling.

©Steve Winter/Finalist, NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017.

©Steve Winter/Finalist, NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017.

“Pictures that you don’t want to look at sometimes have more power,“ Winters said in a 2014 promo reel for National Geographic. “I mean, beauty’s one thing. Heartbreak is another. Pictures that you just can’t stand looking at are the ones that maybe have the most power.”

Winter’s latest nature film, Jaguar vs. Croc, anchors National Geographic Channel’s “Big Cat Week,” premiering Dec. 10 at 9/8c.


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


Making Lucy, in her own image.

“Came for the comments war,” one commentator posted. “Wasn’t disappointed!”

“These (so-called) paleo-artists are nothing more than science-fiction artists,” another noted. “The most important skill they have is imagination, which has nothing to do with reality. As (the artist) says, ‘This is what they may have looked like.’ They keep trying to make monkeys out of us.”

“That’s why they call it ‘art,’” another countered. “It’s an interpretation. No one is trying to tell you what to believe. Too bad the same can’t be said about you!”

Whoa, there.

“Go to any museum,” the skeptic replied, “and see if they state that what you are looking at may be a bald-faced lie. I believe in science, but this whole field isbunk.”

Even if it is bunk, though — and there are plenty of experts who insist it isn’t — it’s compelling stuff.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

What’s the point of being human if we’re not allowed to dream? Besides, recreating three-dimensional faces and even entire bodies from skeletal remains is a time-honoured, time-tested technique of forensic science, used in everything from cold-case murderinvestigations to ongoing missing-persons cases.

And there’s no question that leaders in the field —  University of Kansas paleoartist John Gurche among them — are both respected in the scientific community and routinely have their work displayed at scientific institutions like the Field Museum in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

Gurche is no dilettante. He frequently creates illustrations for National Geographic, created a set of four dinosaur-themed stamps for the US Post Service in the late 1980s and was one of the lead consultants on the original Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park. More notably, perhaps, he published the 2013 book Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins, in which he detailed his work on no fewer than 15 paleoanthropology displays he designed for the National Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Human Origins.

Gurche is currently Artist in Residence at Ithaca, NY’s Museum of the Earth.

He was most recently in the news for a Discovery Magazine article ‘Making Lucy: A Paleoartist Reconstructs Long-Lost Human Ancestors,’ which he both wrote and illustrated. 

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

“I have an interesting job,” he deadpanned, then went on to explain how he created a lifelike, life-sized three-dimensional recreation of the most famous human ancestor ever unearthed.

“When I first learned of Lucy’s discovery, I wanted to make her (in her own image),” Gurche explained. “It is a wonderful endeavour to seek answers to questions about how she lived. Seeing her as she may have appeared in life can make a connection for us that nothing else can.”

‘Lucy’ is the name given to a 3.2-million-year-old partial skeleton found by Cleveland Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson on Nov. 24, 1974, near the village of Hadar, in Ethiopia’s Awash Valley. Lucy was believed to be the earliest known representative of Australopithecus afarensis.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

Despite those who would dismiss Gurche and others’ work as so much junk science, paleoartists’ supporters in the scientific community note that paleoart is not the fantasy of an artist’s imagination but rather the result of cooperative discussions among scientists and artists alike. When trying to recreate an extinct animal — or person — the artist must employ both scientific knowledge and the mind’s eye.

Through exhibits at institutions like the Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins, paleoart shapes how the public perceives long extinct animals and early humans.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has awarded the John J. Lanzendorf Prize in Paleoart since 1999. Gurche won the award in its second year, in 2000.

The society describes paleoart as “one of the most important vehicles for communicating discoveries and data among paleontologists, and is critical to promulgating vertebrate paleontology across disciplines and to lay audiences.”

That’s a dry way of saying paleoart is not only cool to look at; it also serves a useful scientific purpose.

©Pedro Saura/Science/NPR

©Pedro Saura/Science/NPR

In Gurche’s paper, he outlined how, in 1996, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science commissioned him to produce “a life-sized, three-dimensional reconstruction” of Lucy, as lifelike as methods at the time would allow.

Gurche explained how first he had to settle on a pose.

“Was there a way to represent both climbing and upright walking in the same pose?” he wrote. “It would be tricky, but perhaps I could depict a moment of transition, where it’s obvious that Lucy is climbing down from a tree, and equally obvious that she’s dropping into an upright position, as opposed to dropping to all fours.”

©National Museum of Natural HIstory, Hall of Human Origins

©National Museum of Natural HIstory, Hall of Human Origins

Gurche went on to explain how he constructed a 3-D version of Lucy’s feet — “one foot in front of the other” —  then based his reconstruction of Lucy’s face on a composite female skull, with more dainty features than a male.

“Lucy’s skeleton displays many clues about the position and development of her musculature,” Gurche noted. “These can be ‘read’ using the anatomy of modern apes and humans as guides.”

There’s room for creative licence, in other words.“Bunk,” thnough, is a harsh word, especially when one realizes the lengths to which Gurche went to ensure at least a modicum of scientific accuracy.

©Smithsonian Institution/Altamira cave paintings

©Smithsonian Institution/Altamira cave paintings

“The amount of body hair in australopiths is unknown,” Gurche explained. “We assume that the common ancestor of chimps and humans, like all the non-human apes, had a full coat. We can guess that this coat was lost by the time of Homo erectus, as (the) skeleton’s proportions show that it was adapting to heat stress, much as modern humans do. Part of our adaptation involves an enhanced sweat gland cooling system, which would not function well with a full coat of body hair.”

Got that? Good.

“About a million individual hairs were punched into Lucy’s silicone skin over a period of three months in each of her incarnations,” Gurche added, “for the Denver museum and later for the Smithsonian *as well).”

That’s a lot of work to go through if the end result is, as paleoart’s detractors insist, little more than junk science.

And the effect is truly remarkable. It’s difficult — impossible, even — to look at Gurche’s work and not feel at least a pang of human curiosity and recognition.

The Smithsonian, National Geographic and the Natural History Museum can’t all be wrong.

 

http://discovermagazine.com/galleries/2013/dec/paleoartist-reconstructs-human-ancestors



 

 

 

 

 

 

When the ‘wild’ in wildlife photography isn’t all that.

Two photos. One, immaculately composed, brightly lit, showing a mountain lion, bright-eyed and well-fed in the foreground against a pristine backdrop of fresh snow. Its furry coat is glossy, every hair in place; the photo itself is in carefully measured, brilliantly sharp focus.
The second photo, in focus but otherwise unprepossessing from a technical standpoint, shows a mountain lion, skinny and weather-beaten, huddling under a rocky overhang. The semi-cave is open to the elements; the mountain lion, in dimly lit shadow is in the background. If you had not been told there was a mountain lion there, you might easily miss it. As a photo, you wouldn’t give it a second glance.
One photo becomes a lightning rod for public attention; the other is quickly forgotten.
It should be no surprise which photo was submitted to a number of prestigious wildlife photography contests.
There’s just one problem — a minor problem or a major problem, depending on your personal sense of ethics and what, if anything, constitutes a legitimate wildlife photo.
The first photo was taken in a game farm, the kind that has been proliferating of late in rural states in the continental U.S. and Canada, where visiting photographers are charged a fee — substantial, in some cases — for access to the animals.

©Phil Ryan/Triple D Game Farm

©Phil Ryan/Triple D Game Farm

Photographers pay a set fee for each, individual species. Bears fetch more than raccoons, and Siberian tigers are at the top of the pay scale. The animals are kept in enclosures and released into a wild-looking compound, with a handler directing their every move, when a paying photographer visits.
The second photo, taken by a field biologist fed up with seeing photos of well-fed, “happy” mountain lions supposedly living in the wild, wanted to take a “real” photo, to show ordinary, everyday animal lovers just how hard life in the wild can be for an apex predator living rough. There is no such things as a well-fed wild mountain lion in winter. Big cats don’t die of comfortable old age; they either starve, being too old to fend for themselves, or are killed by a younger, fitter, more aggressive cat moving in on its territory.

©Phil Ryan/Triple D Game Farm

©Phil Ryan/Triple D Game Farm

It may seem like semantics, but the issue of whether wildlife photos depict genuinely wild animals behaving naturally, without the use of bait or the promise of easy food, or whether they’re taken of captive animals under controlled circumstances has taken on added significance now that environmental and conservation photography is as prestigious as commercial art photography and photojournalism. The London Natural History Museum’s annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and the U.S.-based Nature’s Best Awards, which culminates in an annual gallery display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC are serious, well-attended events.

©Scott Joshua Dere/Nature's Best Photography

©Scott Joshua Dere/Nature's Best Photography

Natural history photography is now a regular component of the World Press Photo awards and the annual Magnum Photography Awards, open to submissions right now, until the end of the month.
National Geographicwhich encourages amateur photographers to submit images to their daily “Your Shot” competition, as well as semi-annual nature and travel photographer-of-the-year competitions, features a disclaimer in its award contests requiring photographers to sign an affidavit confirming that any images of wildlife were taken in the wild unless noted otherwise.
Most people judge a photograph on its merits — either it’s a compelling photo or it isn’t — but the issue of breeding captive animals for photographic purposes has also become an animal-rights issue.  Many game-farm animals are abused or are penned up in small, uncomfortable enclosures when no one is looking, as the following links to news sites show.

https://qz.com/969811/game-farm-photography-love-wildlife-photos-theres-a-good-chance-they-werent-shot-in-the-wild/

https://africageographic.com/blog/a-photographers-perspective-the-wild-vs-captive-debate/

http://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2010/phony-wildlife-photography-gives-warped-view

http://www.westernwild.org/wild-vs-captive-wildlife-photography/

As with so many divisive issues, there is no easy answer, no clear-cut set-of-rules.
Swiss-born, Vancouver-based nature photographer Daisy Gilardini, whose near-miraculous sequence of photos of a mother polar bear with two virtually newborn cubs has won several prestigious awards in the past year, captured her polar bear images last March northern Canada’s Wapusk National Park, in Manitoba, in temperatures reaching 50 below zero.

©Daisy Gilardini/Nature's Best

©Daisy Gilardini/Nature's Best


It was so cold, she says, she felt shaken to the core of her being. Even for someone born and raised in the Italian-Swiss Alps, huddling in minus-50-degree temperatures for a picture of a polar bear seemed extreme — but the sacrifice was worth it in the end.
Gilardini is an avowed believer in the idea that “wild is wild,” and that images of captive or baited animals have no place in wildlife photography competitions.
Her image “Hitching a Ride” was shortlisted forthe 2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s “People’s Choice Awards,” subject to a popular vote.

©Daisy Gilardini/WPOTY People’s Choice Award

©Daisy Gilardini/WPOTY People’s Choice Award

Another image in the same category, a visually striking close-up of a crocodile chomping down on a ball of loose meat, was taken in a private game reserve in South Africa; the crocodile was lured to a hide by bait from the carcass of an animal that had been killed on a nearby reed island.

©Bence Mate/WPOTY People's Choice Award

©Bence Mate/WPOTY People's Choice Award

Another, even more evocative image in the category, showed a Japanese macaque’s hand gently cradling her sleeping baby. The image was taken at Japan’s world-famous Jigokudani Monkey Park, outside Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

©Alain Mafart Renodier/WPOTY People's Choice Award

©Alain Mafart Renodier/WPOTY People's Choice Award

Jigokudani Monkey Park is a wilderness area, famous for its snow monkeys. The monkeys are fed by park attendants — so they can be seen by tourists year-round and not just during the four months of the year it snows — the monkeys are not considered genuinely wild.
Does it really matter?
Possibly not. Except that — quite aside from the moral question of ethical treatment of animals — a competition that promotes itself as a wildlife photography contest, or even a nature photography contest, should be a true reflection of nature and the wilderness at its most wild, with no interference from outside agents, either it’s the photographer or actual, trained animal handlers.
It’s called wildlife photography, after all. The clue is in the name.


 

 

 

 

What if Indiana Jones was wrong? Scientists debate recent fossil findings.

Two recent fossil discoveries have prompted a radical change of thinking in scientific circles. That’s the fast headline, anyway. A closer examination of subsequent controversies — not every scientist holds the findings in the same esteem — suggests that, unlike say mathematics or physics, palaeontology is open to different interpretations. Nothing is exact. And that opens a whole other can of worms, metaphorically speaking: We may never know the answer to the big questions.

This past week, the journal Nature reported that a cat-sized fossil discovered in Scotland  (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v543/n7646/full/nature21700.html) could be the prime candidateas our common dinosaur ancestor. If true, that would fly in the face of a century of dinosaur classification.

Weeks earlier, fossilized remains discovered on the Hudson Bay coast of Quebec were judged to be the earliest findings of their kind ever found — proof, in other words, that life on Earth has been around a lot longer than anyone realized and that, furthermore, evolution happened in the blink of an eye.

A blink of an eye is about as long as it took for the doubters to weigh in — in part because no one, not the least palaeontologists who’ve devoted their entire careers to studying dinosaurs’ family tree, wants to be told that some of their most cherished beliefs about evolutionary history are dead wrong.

Huge plant-eating sauropods like the Brontosaurus have traditionally been classified with meat-eating theropods like the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex, even though there are key skeletal differences between the two groups — itself a sign that the entire classification system may be flawed.

©Field Museum, Chicago

©Field Museum, Chicago

The doubters are determined to have their say, though. The experts are divided, as the old expression goes.

The Scottish findings, these doubters say, amount to little more than fake news — at best an overreaction motivated by good but wrong-headed intentions, at worst a thinly disguised ploy to grab easy headlines and boost burgeoning careers.

The latest findings that the Scottish big-cat-sized creature, Saltopus, is the closest to what our hypothetical common ancestor might have looked like, are themselves little more than hypothesis, according to Max Langer, a palaeontologist at the University of Säo Paulo in Brazil who is widely considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities on dinosaur research.

At stake is the traditionally accepted notion that the oldest, most revealing fossils are to be found in the Southern Hemisphere, not the the Northern.

Matt Baron, a graduate student at Cambridge University who led the three-year dino project in the UK, said that while it will never be possible to pinpoint the origin of dinosaurs with any degree of certainty, his findings have raised new questions about the Northern Hemisphere possibly being the origin of humankind’s dinosaur ancestors.

“It may just be that dinosaurs originated in Scotland,” he told The Guardian newspaper.

Without getting too complicated about it — the earlier Quebec findings, for example, hint that life may have originated long before the break-up of the continents into northern and southern hemispheres, as depicted in Scottish geologist Iain Stewart’s 2011 BBC documentary series Rise of the Continents

(Recommended viewing, by the way; Stewart is the David Attenborough of geological filmmaking and a respected evolutionary thinker in his own right.)

For many palaeontologists, the idea that dinosaurs may have originated in Scotland has about as much veracity as the notion that Nessie is out their in Loch Ness somewhere, still terrorizing locals in small boats. 

Baron’s findings, coupled with similar studies sponsored by London’s Natural History Museum, suggests that scientists’ classification of dinosaur ancestors into two specific groups — a belief held since the 1880s — may need a major rethink. There are also suggestions that many of the earliest dinosaurs may have had feathers as well as scales, and that the original precursor of today’s mammals may have been an omnivore, not a carnivore.

©Iain Stewart, BBC

©Iain Stewart, BBC

Baron told The Guardian that he did not come by his conclusions lightly.

“We didn’t want to be these palaeontologists who told the world that Diplodocus and Brontosaurus weren’t dinosaurs,” he said. “We’d be like the guys who said Pluto isn’t a planet.”

For a more clinical take, follow the link to an informative piece by science writer Evan Gough at Universe Today:

http://www.universetoday.com/134625/new-study-wants-rip-t-rex-place-dino-tree/



The familiar, seen in new, unfamiliar ways

Memories are short, attention spans even shorter. 

With competition about to close in the 2016 Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, it’s worth taking another look at last year’s winner, announced this past October. (Yes, unlike some outfits, the NHM judges take their time before picking the winner from thousands of entries.)

Contest rules state that the judges are looking for an image that is not only technically proficient and emotionally moving but that reflects our changing environment in some way. It must be a picture with a message, in other words.

That’s why American ornithologist Tim Laman’s point-of-view image of an orangutan climbing a tree in Borneo to find figs struck such a chord with the judges. Orangutans are critically endangered throughout their once extensive range across Indonesia and Southeast Asia, for reasons both short-term (jungle clearing for palm-oil plantations) and long-term (deforestation and habitat loss due to climate change).

©Tim Laman WPOTY

©Tim Laman WPOTY

Laman first came to public prominence in 2007 when, as Harvard-trained ornithologist, he published an article in National Geographic about birds of paradise; he’s believed to be the first known photographer to have captured images of each and every species of birds of paradise in their natural habitat.

©Tim Laman

©Tim Laman

Laman is not just a wildlife photographer; he’s a doctoral research associate with Harvard Univeristy’s ornithology department, and has published numerous scientific papers in peer-reviewed periodicals.

Laman specializes in offbeat and hard-to-get subjects, including critically endangered — and so by definition hard-to-find — birds such as the Visayan hornbill and Nuku Hiva pigeon, as well as finding unusual ways to capture the image of oft-photographed primates like the orangutan.

©Tim Laman

©Tim Laman

For his WPOTY winning image, titled ‘Entwined Lives,’ Laman rugged a camera set-up more than 30 metres off the ground — this, after thinking for weeks at a time how he might get a unqiue vantage point from which to photograph people have seen countless times in other images.

As an occasional guide and advisor for tour groups of amateur photographers, he tries to get shutterbugs to get beyond the basics of how to use a camera to looking at the world in new, different ways.