I’m not much of an animal person, if I’m being honest. The only household pet I’ve ever cared for was a goldfish, and I’m so afraid of dogs that I’ll often cross the street just to avoid them. As for nature – give me a cityscape any day.
That said, if there’s one exhibition that keeps me coming back year after year, it’s the Wildlife Photography display at the Natural History Museum. The selection of photographs that feature – capturing animals in their natural states, bringing to life remote landscapes and making the most mundane of fauna seem positively magical – never fails to disappoint.
This year’s display, despite containing not a single image of a penguin – normally a regular fixture of the exhibition – offers plenty to astonish and amaze. From photography that shows the natural world in its full majesty, not least a striking shot of a diminutive bird juxtaposed with the harsh grandeur of the Iguacu Falls, to that which is art in and of itself, like the winning black and white image of elephants in the wild that is so subtle it could almost be a line drawing, you’ll be captivated.
You’ll marvel at the way the photographs play around with colour and light, to create scenes that seem like they must be of some other planet, and not our own. You’ll marvel at their patience – waiting for a creature to leave its lair – and their bravery, as they get close up with some of nature’s most terrifying personalities. You’ll also marvel at the selection from the youth category, where children as young as age ten demonstrate mastery most adults couldn’t even dream of. A particular favourite was the ‘freeze frame’ of a graceful stoat in motion above a snowy landscape.
But perhaps most charming – at least to this viewer – are those that show the humour and joy of the natural world; from ‘Dive Buddy’, a close-up of a green turtle chewing on sea-grass off the Cancun coast – an image so vivid and defined that you almost assume it to be a Pixar animation rather than a genuine representation – to the Jackie Chan-esque bird engaged in an aerial battle, or ‘Bad Boys’, a group of menacing-looking crested black macaques in Indonesia readying for a fight.
Then there is the impressive dedication shown by the photographers, from those who submerge themselves underwater in search of the perfect Kodak moment, to the Japanese photographer who dug a hole in the slope of a mountain, built a hut and lived there for 74 days in order to take his winning picture of a tiger.
One criticism is that this is an invariably poorly laid out exhibition, such that there is a danger of missing sections. There is so much here that even the most animal-unenthusiastic will be drawn in. If creatures aren’t your thing, there are spectacular shots of the Northern Lights, of Icelandic vistas and even wild mushrooms made to look like fairy-tale characters. For the armchair traveller, the maps identifying where in the world the photographs were taken will make you wish you could simply jump on a plane.
A treat of a show, well worth the entry fee, and enjoyable for adults and children alike. Shame about the lack of penguins, though.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 exhibition
Natural History Museum, until 23 March 2014.
Adult £12, child and concessions £6, family £33