As I made my way to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, currently showing in the gallery of the Winchester Discovery Centre, I was startled to come across a mantis. Not an insect, but rather a massive, six-legged robotic walking machine designed by Matt Denton, founder and chief designer of Micromagic Systems. This unexpected encounter seemed like an appropriately fitting preface to an exhibition exploring how we attempt to capture nature.
The images in the exhibition have been selected from 43,000 entries by an international jury chaired by Jim Brandenburg. The quality is, not surprisingly, extremely high. Each photograph on display in the large, well-lit and air-conditioned space is captioned with information detailing not just how each picture was taken but also the wildlife caught by the lens. A lovely way of engaging with the varying interests of viewers.
Technically speaking there is some astonishing work here, like Michael Nichols‘ award-winning The President’s Crown. This giant from California’s Sequoia National Park carries a load of some two billion leaves. Nichols’ photograph of it digitally combines 126 images. It took a year to plan and seven months to shoot – an impressive undertaking, yes, but then the tree itself is 3,200 years old! Also remarkable are the contributions of various young photographers, including in the 10 years and under section.
Among some really striking and beautiful images are Snow Moment, winner of the Creative Visions prize. Jasper Doerst has captured a Japanese macaque jumping in a mysterious swirl of snowflakes or Richard Packwood’s ‘The greeting’ (Nature in Black and White) which could almost be a line drawing.
The exhibition isn’t sugar-coated. Some categories encourage us to think more deeply about our relationship with the environment. There are moving and serious images like, for instance, one of a shark with a hook in its jaw or Brent Stirton’s powerful and upsetting view of the ivory trade.
You don’t discover the over-all winners until the end of the exhibition. This is as it should be. Each photograph deserves to be enjoyed in its own right and, really, the idea of choosing the ‘best’ from such a wonderfully varied, sometimes touching selection must have been quite a task. Do go and immerse yourself before 21st September, when the exhibition closes. The images, however, will linger long after that in the mind’s eye.
Helen Paskins is a Winchester-based professional orchestral and chamber musician who has worked with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BSO and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.