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.