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Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Conservation Looms Large

As ever, SEEN enjoyed the preview of this excellent exhibition on the 18th October at the Natural History Museum. Many beautiful and stunning images were captured by a growing body of enthusiastic, nay, obsessive photographers worldwide, some of whom were in attendance.

Most notably, the young winner Daniel Nelson with his image ‘The Good Life’ of a gorilla eating breadfruit (and looking uncannily human) and the overall winner Brent Stirton, whose sobering and tragic image of a dead, mutilated rhino – ‘Memorial to a Species’ – highlighted the perilous state of the rhino population in its native habitat. It’s fair to say that the human impact on nature was foregrounded in this year’s competition; it wasn’t all cute bear cubs and insect battles.

The good life © Daniel Nelson – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Daniel spoke eloquently about his current travels by public transport across Africa with a backpack and a single camera, and the Brent Stirton spoke of his heartening faith in the young people in countries that currently are exploiting certain animal populations to extinction. As he said himself, when you have a child dying of a disease and someone convinces you that rhino horn will save them, it’s a hard narrative to resist.

‘Brent’s image highlights the urgent need for humanity to protect our planet and the species we share it with. The black rhino offers a sombre and challenging counterpart to the story of ‘Hope’ our blue whale. Like the critically endangered black rhinoceros, blue whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction, but humanity acted on a global scale to protect them. This shocking picture of an animal butchered for its horns is a call to action for us all.’
Natural History Museum Director, Sir Michael Dixon

Memorial to a species © Brent Stirton – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

That said, there was plenty to enthrall and delight in the exhibition. You have to salute the ingenuity and steadfastness of the photographers; often lying in wait for hours or diving into freezing waters. The young photographers were very strongly represented and echo Stirton’s hope that future generations will act wisely upon their inheritance of a world that is dangerously close to the brink in terms of exploitation and deforestation. SEEN’s personal favourite was the gobsmacking picture of ‘The Ice Monster’ – an iceberg seen underwater by Laurent Ballesta.

The ice monster © Laurent Ballesta – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

‘I am passionate about communicating the incredible diversity and beauty of the natural world and inspiring people to become better custodians of our planet – as a global species we all need to take responsibility for and address the urgent challenges we face. Wildlife Photographer of the Year plays such an important role in inspiring and challenging our perceptions and priorities, which is why I’m incredibly honoured to have been part of this extraordinary competition for five years now – and I’ve been a fan of the exhibition for far longer than that. This year’s winning image conveys a powerful and disturbing message from a master storyteller, shining a light not only on a species being pushed to the brink of extinction, but also on the issues of human morality and compassion for the animals we share this planet with.’
Liz Bonnin, Science and Wildlife Presenter

The exhibition opens this Friday 20th October and closes on Monday 28th May. And for all you photographers out there, the next competition, #WPY54, opens for entries on Monday 23rd October. Get out there and start snapping.

Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road