Wednesday 21 November 2012

Wildlife Photographer & Everything was Moving

A snaking line of schoolchildren pass through the main hall of the Natural History Museum
(Photography is not allowed within the actual exhibitions,
however, all of the Wildlife Photographer images can be viewed online)

Every year I make a point of travelling up to London to go and enjoy a morning at the Wildlife Photographer exhibition in the Natural History Museum. It makes a change to go an admire someone elses wonderful images for a day rather than, as usual, sitting in front on my monitor being self critical with my edits. However, this year, not only is there this exhibition currently showing in London but there are at least five further exhibitions worthy of a look right now.

It is a case of the proverbial bus- wait a long time for one, then several good shows all pop up together: Cecil Beaton; Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize; Ansel Adams; Cartier-Bresson and one at the Barbican which looked interesting, Everything Was Moving. Photography from the 60s and 70s, the latter being my choice for the afternoon viewing.

Images in the Wildlife Photography exhibition are always beautifully displayed via backlit frames and in a darkened room, which adds to the whole viewing experience. For me, two hours spent here is not unusual, as I'm always keen to read the technical details for all the images (Pretty much all Canon and Nikon contributions this year! A couple of to be expected, Hasselblad and a Mamiya but not until nearly the end do Sony and Fuji put in an appearance. Again, mostly DSLRs but a Canon Powershot pops up in the 10 years and under category)

So, what of the images? As with every year, there are those shots which make an instant impression and those which either take a little longer to appreciate the subtleties or just 'don't do it' for me. Of this last type, the winning image in the Urban Wildlife category didn't sit easy with me. Did it look too set up? Was the squirrel stuffed? I might be doing Kai Fagerström (Finland) a great disservice for all his patience to capture the shot but there is just something...
However, there were plenty of other images which appealed to me for one reason or another. It might have been composition, as in the polar bear image by Ole Jørgen Liodden (Norway) with everything in the right place, to Remo Savisaar (Estonia) beautifully simple black and white image. Sam Cairns (UK) had a similar simplicity with his fulmar image. He was one of seven of the thirteen young photographers who were from the UK, which is encouraging to see.

In a different vein, an image from the Wildscapes category by Fortunato Gatto (Italy) personally appealed to me as there was a distinct similarity to the landscape on the Isle of Eigg to that of some of the western Irish landscapes I love. Moving on to the World in Our Hands category, (where the precarious relationship with man and nature is studied) the joy I had from the Eigg landscape was rudely shattered by an image by David Chancellor (UK) (winner of Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2010) entitled 'Trophy Room' Now this is just me here. I can understand going out and shooting for food, but to shoot (managed shooting or not) to furnish your room with the trophies of the killing, like this, is just obscene. The repulsion of how man carries out unnecessary slaughter continued in Paul Hilton (UK/Australia) image of the shark fin trade, fuelled by the demand from China's increasing middle class population.
(Note. It is the actual subject matter which I am uncomfortable with here and not the photographer who is raising the awareness)

The Chinese link continued into the Wildlife Photojournalist category. To a degree, Steve Winter (USA) 'Tiger Tale', and more so Brent Stirton (South Africa) with 'Deadly Medicine', showing horrific images of the carnage to the rhino population by poachers supplying the misguided needs within the Chinese medicine trade. By this time my emotions were at a jangling high and I needed something to calm the soul once again. A glance at Charlie Hamilton James (UK) wonderful giant otter started to put a smile back on my face. Then I retraced my steps back past the wonderful Wildscapes and to the stunning Botanical Realms where all of these images had the desired calming effect. However it was to be Jasper Doest (The Netherlands) image of an often photographed Japanese macaque that finally brought me back to where I came in, and it became my favourite image of the exhibition. Clearly not the judges choice but I loved the beauty of the droplets of snowy rain on the finely detailed hairs, the closed eyes providing that feeling of contentment that the little primate was experiencing in the warm waters in which it sat.

After the unexpected emotions of the morning, I was open minded as to what to expect at the Barbican (a place I still can't feel comfortable in!) with Everything was Moving "Exploring how artists and photographers intersected with their historical moment and the world they inhabited during the 1960s and 1970s"

However, I was in for another heightened experience with some truly amazing photo-documentary images from happenings within my own lifetime but which were remote from my own comfortable years of growing up.
South Africa; Southern States Black America; Vietnam. All would pop up in the news items of the day although I had little understanding of what was really going on. These images from twelve different photographers in assorted global locations, really captured the feelings from the era. I was back up on that emotional rollercoaster again. Sadly, I really hadn't allowed myself enough time to do justice to this incredible collection and I can only recommend that you need to allow yourself plenty of time if you do go to visit this exhibition.

So, another calming period was required whilst waiting for the post rush-hour train home. A reflective walk along the Embankment followed by a very pleasant pub meal, provided me with the feet rest time that is required after 'Exhibition days'.

I now have the prospect of two more such days to take in the remaining four unviewed photographic exhibitions.
I had better check my diary!

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