Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Bristol

10th March 2012

It’s been difficult to know what to say about this exhibition and the visit, purely because it’s so different from the regular OCA sponsored exhibition visits; trying to fit the imagery, thoughts, learning and evoked emotions into the TAoP course concepts that doesn’t naturally take wildlife imagery into it as part of the artistic world of contemporary photography that tends to be its emphasis.  I’m going to write down what I feel and have learned from the visual stimulation and from the discussions that resulted between the students and Jose, but they will not necessarily have any consistency of approach or relevancy to the course.  Nor do I think they perhaps should have as the art involved in producing these images is as different from contemporary art photography as ballet is to painting.

I’d like to make it clear from the start that I’d be very proud to be able to produce any photograph of the quality and content of any of the images that were on display at this exhibition and I lift my hat to each and every one of the contributors for the expertise, patience and craft.

Having been to see this exhibition in previous years and looked at the catalogue books produced for them for several other years I was aware of what I might find on show prior to arrival.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the large numbers of people visiting the exhibition and the crowded conditions of the seemingly small hall for such a large number of pictures.  At the previous exhibitions I’ve been to the gallery has been in London and my memory seems to suggest the area assigned for the hangings were larger, although it may also be that I went much earlier into the exhibition and not the end.  That aside, provided one was prepared to wait your turn there was always space left around the images by the crowd to enjoy, appreciate and photograph them.

Before we began the group tour I made sure that I had half-an-hour before our meeting time to take a look at the images so that I wouldn’t want to rush around during the group session and miss something of importance.  This was a good move as it also made me aware of some images I wanted to pick out in particular for a more detailed study later on.

Jose made the tour more interesting than it already was to be by providing a tutorial explanation of what he thought we should be considering as we appraised each image, some printed and disc based material he’d taken his own time to assemble for us to digest after the visit and a challenge for us all to select one image that we found to be the best and explain why at the debriefing session after the tour.

Daniel Beltra - Spain "Still Life in Oil"

Of the images that made up the contestants for the main event, “The 2011 Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year”, I personally didn’t find any that made any really significant impact on me.  The winner, “Still life in oil” , of oiled pelicans corralled in a box prior to cleaning, whilst extremely evocative, it was more a beautiful photograph of  different shades of brown that tended to make the viewer bypass the tragedy involved.  The question then is, ‘is that what we want wildlife imagery to do for us?’  Should an image be made of any subject to produce first and foremost a beautiful picture that wins competitions, whilst the reasons for it being available to make in the first place are a tragedy that takes second place?  I can’t answer that question; as Jose will testify when he first asked me about it, I initially saw the tragedy and the beauty of the photograph only came second, whilst to him it was the reverse!  What is it we’re doing to our world and ourselves when such diverse emotions come from tragedy?  The rest of the images in that section gave me the impression they were studies of images that had been produced before and didn’t raise any emotion of ‘please return to look at me’.

The greatest revelation I had throughout the visit and afterwards was that I now look upon this type of photography in a far different light to that which I had prior to starting TAoP.  By that I mean I admit that my abhorrence of much contemporary art has mellowed significantly and as a consequence of my exposure to the different genres we’re expected to review and find influential, the influence of wildlife imagery, whilst still beautiful in the most part and very evocative, it no longer has primacy of position in my influences.  Twelve months ago, for me to have made that statement was anathema and just shows to those that come to this form of art with prejudices should note that with application of mind, and by getting into the spirit of education, they too can come to appreciate other genres of photography.

With regard to the challenge that Jose set us to find a single image that we as an individual thought we as our favourite.  I found three which I found not only to my liking, but that also had the capability of evoking ideas of ‘Impressionism’ in me, which is a genre of painting that I would particularly like to be emulate in photographs.

Ole Jorgen Liodden - Norway "Snow Kings"

Marton Schaul - Hungary "Pasque Flower at Sunset"

Sandra Bartocha - Germany "Tongue Orchid and Hares-Tail"

All three images are exquisite in their own right, and it was very difficult to make a final decision on what I thought was my favourite.  In the end I had to make that decision of course and I decided that “Snow Kings” was mine.  The reasons in the end were down to the technical difficulty of producing this image.  The artist had to expend considerable effort and time to obtain this image.  It’s not something that many of us would be prepared to spend our money, time and energy upon and it has brought those of us in that category an image we’d never ever see anywhere else.  That doesn’t mean that the other two are any less technically brilliant, but the hardships endured by Ole Lidden appear to be in excess of those endured by the other two.  The subject also has more appeal to me than the flowers, but all three appeal to my love of the ‘Impressionist’ genre.

The debate after the viewing was well thought out, argued and the two hours we took went by all too quickly before we were asked to leave, being some of the last visitors in the museum.

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One Response to Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Bristol

  1. Marton Schaul says:

    Great article, thanks!:)

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