Wildlife Photographer of the Year


Today included a spur of the moment visit to the Natural History Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

It would seem I am incapable of visiting an exhibition and giving it unconditional praise.

And while praise can only be expressed in a limited amount of ways, reservation (criticism is too strong a word) can be wide ranging, constructive, colourful and easy to come by.

But praise it I shall.

Before going on to voice my doubts – which, to be fair, are highly personal and of no reflection whatsoever on the standard of work.

The images were stunning and the overall quality of photography was, as expected, exceedingly high. The range of photography and photographers represented was impressive, showing images from every aspect of the natural world. The atmosphere in the gallery was buzzing, relatively (but not too) busy and with the perfect amount of children running around to stop it being a sterile gallery environment.

The tone of the exhibition was just right too, with the captions the perfect length, interesting and informative, yet not too long and tedious. The show had a strong, accessible narrative. Something that is too often missing from exhibitions.

It worked.

So, what was missing? What wasn’t quite right?

My biggest surprise as I walked in was the method of display. Screens. Not prints. No frames, just monitors. They looked good and of course there is no rule to say a photography exhibition has to include hard copies or prints…but it certainly raised my eyebrows. It just felt like the emphasis had been placed on the image and subject matter and taken away from the photograph itself. All the work seemed to have been done at the time of taking. The presentation and method of display became as neutral and perfect as possible. Invisible almost. Sterile.

It gave the exhibition slickness. It made everything seem too perfect. Despite it being made up of several photographers, it could just as easily have been one persons work. Everything was very uniform. And this was exacerbated by my second (small) gripe.

I felt that the images lacked personality. The standard is so high for these competitions (Landscape photographer of the year etc) that people expect a certain type of image when they judge or visit. There seems to be a formula to getting selected for the competitions. And with the wildlife photographer of the year it just feels like too much emphasis is on getting close, thinking up amazing trip wire, motion detector innovations…and from we what I could tell very few images were taken remotely…it’s just that it felt like they were.

The exhibition was all about the animals, nature and the environment. They were spectacular. Beautifully depicted and I could not fault them…


…I left feeling I knew nothing about the photographers themselves. Who were they? Where was their personality? Like the music industry at the moment, it all feels very sterile and formulaic. We seem to be missing some personalities, some hell raisers, some rock’n’roll stars.

I know this wasn’t the place to go in order to find them, but it is a shame that innovation, roughness or cutting edge is not recognised by the establishment. Indeed, it feels like these qualities are themselves achieved in a formulaic way.

l can only hope that the photographers (and artists & musicians) of the future rebel against the establishment rather than aspire to become a part of it.