Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is a poignant look at a beautiful planet

By Adela Ryle | 01 November 2013

Exhibition review: Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013, Natural History Museum, London, until March 23 2014

A low angle shot of elephants around a water hole, with a blue tint, slightly blurred by a baby elephant walking past.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year's overall winner, Essense of Elephants by Greg du Toit© Greg du Toit
From ethereal icescapes to wrestling jaguars, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 exhibition offers glimpses of a breath taking natural world that most of us never see.

The 100 winning photographs have been chosen from almost 43,000 entries, creating a truly diverse and inspiring collection which reflects the full beauty and variety of the our planet.

Exotic images, as always, feature heavily: Pelicans, captured from below, stretch their translucent bills wide as they fish; a lion cub gazes into the camera lens at sunset; two golden eagles share a meal. But the simpler moments of beauty are just as striking. In one photograph a harvest mouse, captured in perfect detail, clings to an ear of wheat. In another, by Łukasz Bożycki, amber ripples of water are stunningly reflected in the eye of a common toad.

Many of this year’s winners have submitted more abstract images, some even bordering on the surreal. In 22-year -old Connor Stefanison’s shot of hot springs in Yellowstone Park, the Turner-esque swirls of snow and mist look more like a painting than a photograph.

It is the intimate portraits of animal interaction that are the most touching, however. Two male lions, exiles from their pack, patiently wait out a thunderstorm together in quiet solidarity. The caption underneath informs readers that “closely bonded lions often lick the water from each other’s fur”. In another image, a male northern gannet offers his life-long mate a necklace of red campion, in a gesture of “true love” that anyone would recognise.

Primate Moments, by Marcos Sobral, draws a direct comparison between these acts of animal affection and their human equivalent, contrasting a rooftop family of rhesus macaques with a mother and child playing below. The winner of the Young Wildlife Photographer Award took the prize with a shot of a gharial crocodile carrying her 12 children to safety on her head.

The sense of each animal’s personality captured in these photographs makes the focus on environmental devastation all the more harrowing. Shots of a devastated Amazonian "ghost forest" sit opposite an aerial photograph of the Alberta tar sands in Canada, while the winning photojournalism story (on the effects of the ivory trade) is particularly gruelling.

The stated intention of the exhibition is to “build awareness of the fragility of our natural resources and to inspire better care of our planet”, and it certainly conveys its message. The captions below each image, though never heavy-handed, contain devastating statistics.

The beautiful Amur leopard, featured in two of the photographs, number as few as 14 adults in the wild. There are only about 200 breeding gharial crocodiles left. In a wonderfully peaceful photograph of a submerged polar bear, the caption informs us that she is in fact stuck between burning forests and melting ice.

A spectacular, beautiful and moving exhibition, Wildlife Photographer of the Year is made all the more poignant by the knowledge that many of the animals which illuminate its walls may no longer be with us in just a few decades. The feeling of wonder it instils inspires a desire for change in the way we treat the world around us.

  • Open 10am-5.50pm (10.30pm last Friday of each month, except December). Admission £5.40-£12 (family ticket £33, free for under-3s). Book online. Follow the museum on Twitter @NHM_London‎.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Plosky Tolbachik volcano erupts with rivers of red hot lava which trail across the scorched black earth.
Cauldron by Sergey Gorshkov© Sergey Gorshkov
A gharian crocodile carries her twelve children on her head as she swims in the Chambal river.
Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner, Mother's Little Headful by Udayan Rao Pawar© Udayan Rao Pawar
A female polar bear sits submerged below ice and water beneath a red sky, tinted by the smoke of a forest fire out of shot.
The Water Bear by Paul Souders© Paul Souders
A macaque sits in the steam and snow flakes around a hot spring in Japan.
Snow Moments by Jasper Doest© Jasper Doest
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