Wildlife Photographer of the Year Review


There is an image in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition that made me cry in public. Standing in the Natural History Museum in London, the lights respectfully dim, I came across Ricardo Núñez Montero’s photograph of Kuhirwa the female mountain gorilla mourning her baby, and I wept. Unusually Ricardo decided to focus on the body of the baby rather than the mother’s eyes, but oddly it makes the viewer even more aware of Kuhirwa’s expression: the sadness, loss and confusion. It’s hard not to anthropomorphise.

Kuhirwa Mourns Her Baby — © Ricardo Núñez-Montero / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This exhibition is a real highlight in my calendar, and I have been visiting the show for more than 20 years now. As it happens, two of our judges (Ross Hoddinott and David Maitland) are regularly awarded in WPOTY, which is even more impressive when you consider that the competition often attracts more than 45,000 entries! David’s astonishing shot of miniscule projections from the skin of a sea cucumber was Highly Commended in the Creative Visions category this year, but I also enjoyed Theo Bosboom’s deceptively simple image of marine algae in the same section. Christian Wappl’s study of a large firefly larva leaving a glowing trail among the leaf litter was excellent, as was Georgina Steytler’s picture of mud-dauber wasps rolling mud into balls.

Mud-Rolling Mud-Dauber — © Georgina Steytler / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

I’m always impressed by photographers who excel in the Wildlife Photographer Portfolio Award category, because producing a cohesive set of images without throwing a few in to make up the numbers is challenging. However, there are no weak links in Javier Aznar Gonzalez de Rueda’s portfolio comprising close-up images of treehoppers. It’s a rare day when one of my favourite images wins a category, so this was especially pleasing.

Mother Defender — © Javier Aznar González de Rueda / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A few days ago someone asked me why we are publicising photographic competitions when we are running one of our own, and it was really easy to come up with an answer. Firstly, having been on the judging panel for many of the big awards, including International Garden Photographer of the Year, Take a View: Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer of the Year I can reveal with confidence that these competitions are run by genuinely lovely people who are extremely passionate about photography. Secondly, I believe that by prioritising the close-up community as a whole, rather than worrying about competing with each other, we can all play a role in advancing the field in general. Finally, a bit of competition can be a good thing — it keeps us focused, and helps us to raise our game.

Clam close-up — © David-Barrio / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

So, if you find yourself in South Kensington before 30 June 2019 pop into the Natural History Museum and take a look at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Let me know what you think: did the judges get it right? What were your favourite images, why?

—Tracy Calder