From 19 January until 29 April, the National Museum of Scotland is hosting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, an exhibition now in its 53rd year, displaying the 100 best photographs of wildlife from across the world. Chosen from nearly 50,000 submissions, the 100 photographs on display each tell a fascinating story. Some are amusing: two white herring gulls stare bemusedly into the camera of five year old Ekaterina Bee, winner of the ‘10 years and under’ category. Some are thrilling: a lion pounces on the back of a giraffe, jaws open and teeth bared, whilst another lion circles in front of it. Many are beautiful: for instance, what seems in one photograph to be only leaves glowing in the autumnal sunlight is revealed on closer inspection to be millions of monarch butterflies, closely clustered together along the trunks and branches of trees.
The exhibition, held in the National Museum of Scotland’s largest exhibition hall and simultaneously on display in London, Bristol, Guernsey and Beverly, costs only £6 for students and is well worth the entry price. You can almost hear David Attenborough’s voice as you wander from one photograph to the next, feeling as if you had somehow stepped into an episode of Planet Earth, an impression heightened by the subtle use of music which lends the exhibition a soothing, tranquil atmosphere.
The adult awards are divided into 14 categories, such as animal portraits, urban wildlife and so on. This year it is possible to view even more photographs online on the Natural History Museum’s website and vote for the People’s Choice Award.
Several of the photographs also touch on dark themes, such as the impact of humanity on the animal kingdom. In one, a caged tiger cub snarls at the camera, its right front leg amputated after getting it caught in a poacher’s snare, whilst in another, desperately sad photograph, a herd of elephants troop through a ruined landscape that has been decimated by the palm-oil trade.
The grand winner (stop reading if you don’t want to know beforehand) is Brent Stirton’s poignant portrait of a slumped rhino corpse, its horn brutally cut off by poachers. It is a shocking, uncomfortable photograph that starkly illustrates the inhumanity of some humans, whilst also depicting the beauty of the black rhino, a species that is now critically endangered due to the rhino horn trade.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year should be renamed Wildlife Photographers of the Year, since all the winning and shortlisted photographers display an amazing skill, delicacy and intimacy with their subjects, even – in some cases, especially – in the young photographers.
Until 29 April
National Museum of Scotland
Photo credit: David Lloyd/National Museum of Scotland