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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.