London Art Buzz: Wildlife Photographer of the Year Winners

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London’s Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine’s annual exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year never fails to deliver. Every piece is the product of a photographer’s patience, dedication, and willingness to withstand harsh weather conditions and uncompromising situations.

The overall winner for 2008 is American photographer and National Geographic contributor Steve Winter, who captured the elusive Snowstorm Leopard in Ladakh’s Hemis High Altitude National Park in India after 10 months of waiting. According to Walker, “After 10 months and a winter with little snow in Ladakh’s Hemis High Altitude National Park, India, I was running out of hope of getting the picture I wanted. But one freezing morning I checked my remote-controlled camera and found a snow leopard had triggered it the night before, in the frame I’d dreamed of — in its true element.”

Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year went to Catriona Parfitt from the UK for The Show, a captivating moment preceding a lion’s attack on a giraffe with several Oryx onlookers at Hobatere Lodge in Namibia. Recalling her experience, Parfitt remarks, “As it walked slowly towards the waterhole at Hobatere Lodge in Namibia, this solitary giraffe kept looking over towards four lions on a nearby ridge. One of the lions, an ambitious young male, raced down from the ridge to chase the giraffe for some distance, watched by the assembled oryx.”

Now in its 44th year, the competition, divided up into categories, such as animal behavior, animals in their environment, animal portraits, plant life, wild places, nature in black and white, urban and garden wildlife, and the underwater world, is judged by specific criteria involving a mixture of technique as well as subject matter. For instance, Polar Sunrise by Creative Visions of Nature Winner Miguel Lasa from the UK, is the ultimate example of perfect lighting and simplicity illuminating the harsh lifestyle of the Canadian polar bear.

Nevertheless, the competition reaches beyond unique depictions of the earth and its inhabitants; it also promotes awareness for the concern of endangered species and potential global catastrophes. There are two awards given for photographs address these issues. The first is the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife, which commemorates the late Gerald Durrell’s work with endangered species and his contribution to the competition. Overall winner, Steve Winter nabbed this one as well with his Snowstorm leopard.

Then there’s the One Earth Award, which highlights the interaction between humans and the natural world. Images must demonstrate the power and resilience of our planet and its impact on us. They can also show our connection with, dependence or effect on the natural world. Whether graphic or symbolic, each image must be thought provoking and memorable, while encouraging respect for our world. Winner in this category was UK photographer, David Maitland for Sacrifice, a photograph dealing with the illegal trading of bush meat in Gabon. Despite the law, Maitland witnessed a Gabon black colobus, one of the 10 most threatened primate species in Africa, being burned alive and stripped of its fur.

From animals and plants to landscapes and underwater dialogues, every photograph is a perfect composition capturing precise moments of unique behaviour. This exhibition is more than a crowd pleaser; it is an example of truly exceptional photography as well as an insightful commentary on the interaction between humans and the natural world.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year runs through April 2009.