In a time where news about human existence destroying our natural planet circulates around the world, we are driven to believe that all wildlife is being destroyed and that everything beautiful will cease to exist for our future.
Movements like Extinction Rebellion have been at the forefront of the media following their #WeAreTheAlarm movement through London in hot pursuit of addressing climate change and the destruction of our planet.
Whilst we have the end of the world constantly looming over our heads, the Natural History Museum’s (NHM’s) Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) Exhibition brings us back to the beauty of the natural world and shows that whilst change is needed, there are still wonders to see.The WPY competition was founded in 1965 by BBC Wildlife Magazine, previously called Animals and the magazine then partnered with the NHM in 1984 to create the competition as it is seen today.
This is the 55th year of the competition and showcases “Earth’s extraordinary diversity and highlighting the fragility of wildlife on our planet”.
Out of the 48,130 images entered from over 100 countries, 100 images were selected for the competition, with one winner being selected for Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 and one for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019.
The photographs were judged by nine photographers, journalists and conservationists. The array of photographs are categorised into Behaviours, Portraits, Habitats, Environments, Photojournalism and Young Photographers.
The majority of the photographs are a celebration of natural beauty and really do showcase what the world still has on offer. But, there are photographs depicting the reality of our human impact on eco-systems and habitats, and these are the ones that are truly hard-hitting for the viewer.
In the portrait category, both Jason Bantle and Cyril Ruoso show the contrast of human against nature, with animals being present in dystopian human environments, places where wildlife used to flourish before the presence of humans influenced them.
The winner of the Urban Wildlife prize within the Habitats category was Charlie Hamilton James for his photograph in Lower Manhattan of a mischief of rats.
This photograph almost contradicts this idea of humans destroying nature, but suggests that animals are ruining human environments. Most people are disgusted by rats, but what this image depicts is their cunning nature by adapting their natural senses to live in the hustle and bustle of cities.More photographs of animals living amongst humans come from Alejandro Prieto and Jasper Doest. Prieto’s photo, Another Barred Migrant was the winner in the Photojournalism category and depicts his picture of a male jaguar being projected onto a section of the US-Mexico border.
Prieto says that this is to symbolise “the jaguar’s past and its possible future presence in the United States. If the wall is built, it will destroy the jaguar population in the United States”.
Considering the current politics in the US, this is an extremely powerful photo and one that reflects on the destruction of both human and animal habitats.Doest’s photograph, Show Time, shows Riku, a Japanese macaque (or snow monkey) performing one of his three daily skits in a theatre in Japan. The shock of this photo is that animals, like Riku, are still being mocked and used for entertainment purposes, instead of being in their natural habitat where they belong.
Many of the photographs showcased show the brutality of the natural world that animals bring themselves. Adrian Hirschi’s photo, Last Gasp of a newborn hippo grasped in the mouth of a bull hippo, with its mother watching on helplessly is just one insight into the viciousness that is in their nature.
Ingo Arndt’s entry, The Equal Match is similar, showing a female puma in mid-attack on a guanaco and although the viewer is told that the guanaco escaped, it’s clearly not an easy life in the wild.The winner of the Portfolio was Stefan Christmann for his showcase of penguins in their natural habitat and he was congratulated by Ole Jørgen Liodden, one of the judges, for his “amazing shots captured in challenging situations”.
The portfolio is a contrast to what we imagine Antarctica looking like from being told that our CO2 emissions and global warming are melting the ice caps (which indeed, they are, there is no doubt about that).
Instead, Christmann shows Antarctica and a colony of penguins in all their glory. Surrounded by crisp, white glaciers, the penguins are happy in their natural environment, which Christmann says was so cold that “the cold felt like needles piercing my fingertips.”
The last picture of this portfolio is the only one that shows destruction, where behind some penguins diving into the water, we see melted clumps of ice slowly oozing into the ocean.The winner of the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year is 14 year-old Cruz Erdmann. His photograph, Night Glow, features a bigfin reef squid showing off its ability to change the colour of its skin and was taken whilst on a night dive off the coast of Indonesia.
Theo Bosboom, nature photographer and a judge of the WPY competition said: “What an resounding achievement for such a young photographer”, which is clearly presented in this talented image.The showstopper is the winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, Yongquing Bao from Qinghai, China, for his photograph, The Moment.
This spectacular photograph presents the moment that a marmot is surprised by a hunting Tibetan fox after having hibernated for around six months. NHM Director Sir Michael Dixon said: “This compelling picture captures nature’s ultimate challenge; its battle for survival.”The exhibition celebrates nature at it’s finest, but does an astounding job of highlighting real issues that our human impact has on so many animals, habitats and eco-systems. The variety of photographs gives every viewer a real insight into the animal world that we tend to feel so foreign to.
Visit the WPY Website for more information on tickets, opening hours and running dates.
Featured image by Shangzhen Fan. Permission to use granted by the Natural History Museum. Copyright belongs to all photographers listed.