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Greg du Toit (South Africa) Essence of elephants

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

29 October 2013 Mary Howell

Breathtaking landscapes, rare snapshots of endangered species, creatures swimming, jumping, hunting, in flight, in fights, in love and in danger. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is beautiful, bold and, most importantly, back!

The wait is over! Now in it’s 49th year, the much anticipated Wildlife Photographer of the Year has opened at the Natural History Museum. Narrowing down 43,000 submissions from 96 countries to a finely tuned 100 photographs, the exhibition is an international celebration of all things organic. Set to tour around the UK, then onto a further 12 countries over 5 continents, the competition attracts millions of visitors. Globally recognised as the leading award in its field, this is the Oscars of wildlife photography.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, the exhibition is cleverly, respectfully designed. Considerate of each photograph’s visual qualities, customised back lighting gives each piece a unique glow. Darkness then fills the gallery space, framing each photograph whilst creating an intimate, cinematic atmosphere.

Covering all bases, the 18 categories span from Behaviour: Birds and Mammals to Underwater Worlds, Urban Wildlife, Creative Visions and Wildscapes. This year’s winners are but two entries from an extraordinary collection of images. Nevertheless, the following warrants a spoiler alert!

At the tender age of 14, the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner, Udayan Rao Pawar, is a remarkable young man from India. Harbouring a love for dinosaurs and local biology, his entry, Mother’s Little Headful, captures the moment a chief female of a group of gharial crocodiles glides through the Chambal River. Comically clung to the top of her head is a cluster of hatchlings. Sadly, only 200 breeding adults remain in an area that now stands at a minute 2% of the former territory. Humorous, beautiful and unusual, Udayan’s skilful manipulation of harsh lighting conditions allows for this rare and wonderful shot of a threatened species.

Comparatively young in the adult competition, 36 year old Greg du Toit’s Essence of Elephants has gained him the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Raised in Africa, his passion for photography was born out of a love for surrounding wildlife and feeling a responsibility to capture its magnificence. The winning picture is a moody, animated shot of a herd of elephants cloaked in twilight. He explained how slowing down his shutter speed allowed their “mystic energy” to flow through his lens. Through believing that photography, like music, art and other creative endeavours, makes the world a better place, he has successfully captured the elephants’ beauty and transcendental energy.

Anchoring nature’s beauty to its fragility are the categories displayed towards the end. Putting wildlife in the often sad but truthful context of the world we live are The World in Our Hands and Photojournalist awards, with both their impacts amplified by the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species close by. Depicting the danger, cruelty and disregard that nature endures, these categories act as a stark reminder of mankind’s impact on the natural world.

Winner of the Photojournalist competition, Brent Stirton’s poignant series on illegal ivory trading provides a compelling yet harrowing commentary on a lucrative black market. Since the ban on the commercial ivory trade in 1989, hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered. Built on the foundations of barbaric massacres, each piece of ivory marks the death of an elephant. From the relics of mass killings to the inner workings of ivory carving factories, Stirton has artistically and factually shone a macabre light on a gruesome, illegal trade still at large.

The photography gets much exposure from the accompanying commemorative book. Containing all images from this year’s competition, it will be translated into 5 languages and sold all over the world. For many of the photographers, the publicity for their cause is as much of a prize as the award itself. Aside from raising awareness, The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is quite simply a joyous celebration of nature’s rich diversity. Resting in the thick of a busy metropolis, it reminds us of our planet’s delicate beauty. Forget age restrictions, being an art buff, zoologist or photography geek; the only thing you’ll need here is a love for nature.

The Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition runs from the 18 October - 23 March 2014. Click here for tickets and more information.

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