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Review: Wildlife Photographer Of The Year @ Natural History Museum

Tabish Khan
Tabish Khan 19 October 2012
Review: Wildlife Photographer Of The Year @ Natural History Museum
Specially Commended.

Charlie was filming lions around the Gol Kopjes area of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania when he came across these cheetahs. They, too, were watching lions. �Once the danger had gone,� Charlie says, �they relaxed into a gloriously symmetrical pose, in the middle of a curved rock, under a symmetry of clouds, crowned by a perfectly positioned small cloud at the top.� He adds that �normally when taking wildlife pictures, everything conspires against the photographer, but with this picture it was the reverse. Everything worked in harmony.� The cheetahs stayed posed for only a few minutes and afterwards, as though on cue, went straight to sleep. Charlie chose to photograph them with a converted infrared camera, which in bright sunlight makes an azure sky dark and dramatic.
Lookout for lions, Charlie Hamilton James. Specially Commended. Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

For five days, Jean had been trying to photograph the feeding frenzy that develops when sardines and herrings migrate off South Africa�s Wild Coast. His luck finally changed in clear water a few miles off Port St Johns. �Activity was intense, with dolphins herding the fish into a ball from below, while Cape gannets rained down from above. I couldn�t wait to get in the water.� Gannets were plunging down several metres at great speed, catching and swallowing several fish in a dive. In contrast, Cape cormorants diving from the surface were much less successful. But what they lacked in fishing skill they made up for with thievery. �In this picture,� says Jean, �the gannet is desperately trying to swallow a herring as a gang of cormorants gives chase.�
Dive Robbers, Jean Tresfon. Commended. Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

Anna was on a boat in Svalbard � an archipelago midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole � when she saw this polar bear at around four in the morning. It was October, and the bear was walking on broken-up ice floes, seemingly tentatively, not quite sure where to trust its weight. She used her fisheye lens to make the enormous animal appear diminutive and create an impression of �the top predator on top of the planet, with its ice world breaking up�. The symbolism, of course, is that polar bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival, and year by year, increasing temperatures are reducing the amount of ice cover and the amount of time available for the bears to hunt marine mammals. Scientists maintain that the melting of the ice will soon become a major problem for humans as well as polar bears, not just because of rising sea levels but also because increasing sea temperatures are affecting the weather, sea currents and fish stocks.
Ice Matters, Anna Henly Photography. Category Winner. Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

While making a film about giant otters in Cocha Salvador, Manu National Park, Peru, Charlie got to know this youngster well. �He was full of personality,� says Charlie. �These animals have a lot of attitude.� The portrait of the four-month-old cub was taken lying down in his boat, and the cub was as curious about Charlie as Charlie was about him, craning up its neck while treading water. Giant otters are very social and live in extended family groups, with up to eight or so members, giving safety in numbers where local predators, such as caiman, are concerned. They are officially listed as endangered. In the past the main threat was hunting, but now their habitat is being destroyed and degraded by logging, mining, pollution, overfishing and even dams, and their numbers are rapidly dropping.
Treading Water, Charlie Hamilton James. Commended. Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

Harvest time at Owen�s grandparents� farm draws in the birds of prey to feed on the fleeing small mammals, and it also attracts Owen, with his camera at the ready. �Seeing this red kite with an aeroplane in the distance was a moment I couldn�t miss,� says Owen. The shot is symbolic for him for two reasons. It was taken at the centre of the Bedfordshire site chosen for London�s third airport back in the late 1960s. �Opposition to the planned airport stopped it going ahead, which is why I can photograph the wildlife on the farm today.� At the same time, British red kites also faced extinction following centuries of persecution. But following reintroductions, numbers have increased dramatically, spreading east from the Chilterns.
Flight Paths, Owen Hearn. Overall Young Photographer Winner. Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

In winter, Japanese macaques in the Jigokudani Valley of central Japan congregate in the hot-spring pools, to stay warm and to socialise. The colder it gets in the mountains, the more of them head for the pools, as do humans. Jasper found about 30 macaques enjoying a steamy soak, their heads covered in fresh snow. �The warm water has a very relaxing effect on the monkeys, and most of them were asleep.� He watched with delight as this youngster became increasingly drowsy and eventually closed its eyes. �It�s such an honour when an animal trusts you enough to fall asleep in front of you,� says Jasper. �I used a close-up shot to capture the moment of tranquillity and to emphasise the human likeness in both face and pleasure.�
Jasper Doest, Relaxation. Commended. Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

All photography fans should have this annual event marked in their calendars. We've been the last two years running and been enthralled each time. The exotic creatures on display and the lengths that these photographers go to get the perfect shot never ceases to amaze us.

This year's selection is no different, ranging from a messianic baby whale shark emerging from the gloomy ocean depths towards a light at the surface to a lazing lion peacefully sleeping on the grass and paying no heed to the violent thunderstorm in the distance.

But it's not just exotic animals that shine. The black and white photograph of a lone hare in a vast freshly ploughed field is a minimalist masterpiece.

Many of this year's selected photographs seem to transcend the animal kingdom and appear surreal at times. The orange reflections from an alligator's eyes at night make it look like a B-movie monster while a bleating gazelle calf appears to be screaming as it runs from the four cheetah cubs that are eyeing it up.

As well as celebrating the diversity of the world's wildlife there is also a category dedicated to the harrowing impact humanity has had on animal life. Animal lovers will struggle to stomach the image of a dolphin at the bottom of an empty aquarium tank and the rhino whose horn has been crudely cut off with a chainsaw. Saddest of all is the tiger who has been 'domesticated' and trudges alongside tourists as if he's lost the will to live and is simply waiting for his eventual demise.

This is a spectacular exhibition of photographs that highlights the wonderful wildlife we have. Compared to the previous two years' displays, the consistency in quality doesn't quite measure up to such a high benchmark but this show is head and shoulders above most other photography exhibitions.

The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is on display at the Natural History Museum and runs until 3 March. Admission is £10 for adults, concessions available.

Last Updated 19 October 2012