the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year

in General Rants , Saturday, November 04, 2006

Last week I visited the Shell BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year show in London (you can try the link, but the site seems to be almost always down - total incompetence). I've never been to any of these shows before, although I've obviously seen the books. I was struck by three things. First, although the standard is incredibly high from a technical point of view, from an artistic point of view it is pretty dull. Obviously there are some exceptions, but I really got the feeling that the jury was making awards based more on difficulty, novelty, and perhaps zoology, than photography. The winning photo, of a walrus foraging on the ocean floor off the coast of Greenland was obviously extremely difficult and dangerous to take. It is a remarkable document of animal behaviour. But is it a good photo ? I'm not so sure. There isn't much to commend it on the standard criteria of composition etc, and the photographer himself states that it was pure luck, and he didn't even realise he'd taken it - or indeed, if I understand correctly, that it was possible to take it. So as a document, it stands - like a snapshot of Elvis climbing out of crashed flying saucer - but as a photograph, especially if there was no actual intention to take this image, well I'm not exactly a highly qualified critic, but I'm uneasy. The displays showing the works of young photographers (is this a characteristically British thing ?) were impressive. But again, to be harsh, were they good photography ? Most, if analysed, seemed to be the work of highly pampered kids (how many get a Nikon D80 or similar and get taken on Safaris in Africa ?) who may, or may not, have had the shot pretty much set up for them. I'm not saying they are worthless - I'd be happy to have taken any of those photos - but they seem to say more about the ruthless efficiency of the DSLR, and the wealth of a small minority of people, than much else. The final rant follows on from this: in parallel, the British newspapers were full of Tony Blair & co. cashing in on the latest climate warnings. Now, regardless that Blair's take on this is possibly the most cynical piece of hypocrisy I've ever seen, would it not seem a bit uncomfortable that shows such as the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year are implicitly encouraging a mass growth in worldwide tourism ? How about weighting entrants on the basis of how far they travelled to take their photos ? Andy Rouse felt compelled to enter a penguin photo - fair enough, but the most remarkable photos I've seen from him in the past year were his kingfisher studies, taken with cycling distance of his home, I believe. If the awards are to focus on Wildlife rather than Photography, then it would be nice to see some evidence that responsible behaviour towards the environment is taken into account. After, Shell spends millions on adverts convincing us of its environmental responsibility. And pays for these adverts through sales of vast amounts of aviation fuel....

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