WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EXHIBITION Portfolio 23

Although this exhibition opens in London at The Natural History Museum, I went to see it a couple of times in Bristol. On the first occasion, it was for the curator’s talk. I was fascinated by the idea of seeing the way such an exhibition is put together and yet the curator’s talk was not what I expected at all. It was given by Bonnie Griffin from Bristol’s CITY MUSEUM, Natural History department! She started with a plug for the Museum rather than anything to do with the exhibition and went on to talk about the taxidermy on show in glass cases at the centre of the exhibition space. I could not help but feel the museum was cashing in on the photography, a lesser art in the mind’s of many. Her talk focused on the natural history exhibits in glass cases, their uniqueness and relation to the fauna of the local area. I did find it interesting if not commendable that such exhibits had been placed alongside photographs, not something I had seen, yet there was also the feeling of being let down. As someone interested in natural history (or wildlife as it is referred to in this context) photography, I am often struck at the lack of critique of this genre. Although obviously popular, it attracts next to nothing in serious attention although one often hears the personal views of wildlife photographers holding forth on their particular approach. In the glass boxes placed at the centre of this exhibition, there are live spiders. One is given their details which include the wonders of sex lives; it appears that some of the more exotic species have found their way to Bristol via boat. Other specie on show were also discussed but I am not going to recount all this here as it was something of a diversion for me. In regards to the exhibition, it seemed very well done. Unlike in London, these were prints not backlit images while there was also audio for certain images. While photographing wildlife helps to know about basic zoology, one also needs to understand the medium one is working in. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of politics mixed up with natural history these days. The plug for local wildlife, Avon Wildlife Trust have a small stall outside the exhibition entrance, is interesting even helpful to local nature photographers but for someone like myself who does not live in Avon it is rather distracting. The speaker says nothing of note about the exhibition without which she would not be giving her talk. Yet photography is always being used it seems; one only has to look in magazines which so often carry photographs to get their message across yet seldom value those image in their own right. This was not my first visit to this exhibition as I had paid to see a preview which was accompanied by a few talks by photographers whose work was exhibited. The talks were introduced by near legendary landscape photographer Joe Cornish who admitted he has got no further than the first stage in the judging process of the WPOTY competition, emphasising the competition involved if not the skill of those who do win something. On the screen, he shows a recent landscape from North Africa that apparently featured in a Harry Potter movie, a fact pointed out to him by his son. The composition is wonderful, a sweeping rockscape in the background nurtures a foreground of green swathes yet the colours are rather saturated giving the photograph the air of a “chocolate box” image. I am familiar with the work of two of the photographers talking. Mary Ellen Anon has written extensively on photographic software and been associated with a group of bird photographers in the U.S. whom I have encountered; it is good to see her making a name for herself beyond the schools of photography. She talks about how she made her images, the hours of waiting, the returning to places she knew and her sense of composition and colour. The last speaker, Jasper Doest, is the one who interests me most. I met him earlier in the year for a workshop in Spitsbergen, an island in the Arctic Circle owned by Norway, where we photographed birdlife in the area of the main town, Longyearben. It was an intense experience and I admire Jasper for his single-minded determination, his readiness to spend hours if not days on a single subject, working away until he has the shot he wants. He discussed some of his work yet it was mainly about his winning image of a Snow Monkey from Japan, apparently poised in space as it looks contemplatively into the falling snow around. Jasper had a winning image last year of another Snow Monkey that was featured on the front of the exhibition catalogue. One of the judges has commented that they never thought they would see another Snow Monkey photograph that would hold their attention for more than a second but had been proved wrong by this image that won the Creative Visions wildlife section. After the talks, I had had a good walk round the exhibition. It was good to see new and well made images but I knew I wanted more time to look at them, to study them with not only the message they conveyed yet also to see the way they were made; all this requires paying close attention to the captions which takes time more than I had at the time. My third visit to the exhibition, a chance to study the images in greater depth, again took place at Bristol. There was to be a talk from Rosemary Kidman Cox and I had contacted a few Open College of the Arts students about meeting there.

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