This exhibition is not just for people to goggle and gape at nature’s congeniality. The pictures are so captivating that they evoke a frenzied passion for environmental activism.
The 50th edition of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition once again features the 100 best images of nature in its most astonishing forms, selected this year from over 42 000 entries worldwide. Hosted by Iziko Museums of South Africa, owned by the Natural History Museum of London and BBC Worldwide, and sponsored in South Africa by National Geographic Channels, it is certainly not to be missed.
There’s something profound in the way a photograph encapsulates the mysterious and the acknowledged aspects of its subject. A picture is not just a picture; it is a visual description of a whole backlog of context. What you see on the surface is merely the highlight of the story, and it can be absolutely asserted that the stories from this exhibition are all awe-inspiring.
But first it is the penetrative beauty that captures the eye and fills the viewer with wonder. In the category ‘Natural Design’, finalist Andrew Lee ‘s picture called ‘Edge of Creation’ is a stupefying adjacency of fire and water, which with long exposure captures the motion of an untamed, evolving world. Christian Vizl’s ‘Glimpse of the Underworld’ is an image of exquisite purple lilies, the plants of the underworld according to the ancient Mayans, in deep emerald water. ‘Ice Land’ by Alessandro Carboni teaches us about the age of ice and its death on volcanic shores. Paul van Schalkwyk, who tragically died on an excursion, exhibits the intelligent designs of wild landscapes. The enthrallment does not end, not even when you walk out of the exhibition, for the power of the images lingers in the memory.
And then there are those stories that quake our wilful disregard for the state of our planet. The winning picture by Michael ‘Nick’ Nicols, ‘The Last Great Picture’, captures the essence of lions in a time long gone, before their existence was under threat. It is a story that, like the picture’s stark contrast between black and white, realises a contrast between the state of lion-hood from then to now and asks, have we passed a point of no return? Complimentary to this is the winning portfolio of South Africa’s Brent Stirton which illustrates the current beleaguered and highly complicated situation of the lions in Africa.
Another South African, Ian Johnson, who was present at the opening, submitted a poignant picture, ‘Where is my Forest?’, inspired by re-wilding projects. In the image, a mountain gorilla appears to be gasping before a deforested landscape. With only 480 of this species remaining, the picture befittingly portrays the trauma facing the gorillas as they lose more and more of their habitat.
And of course there are the incredible stories of the photographers themselves. Nature’s ever-existing sublimity and beauty may well provide ready assembled artworks, but the photographer is doing a lot more than just snapping a tribute to these natural masterpieces. The captions on each photograph reveal an eye-widening glimpse into a photographer’s lifestyle of trekking through scourging terrains, thwarted by fire and ice. It’s a beautiful amalgamation of man and the elements.
So yes, cheers to nature, but also kudos to the photographers who have recognised that nature is so godly it needs to be enshrined. Thanks to these extraordinary men and women we have pictures that demand a response, not just in emotion, but in action.
Tayla-Paige van Sittert
The 50th Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition runs at the Iziko South Africa Museum until 5 March 2015.