I have seen this annual exhibition many times before and know what to expect. Predictable subject matter is perhaps one aspect of what prevents critical appraisal along with an often exaggerated sense of colour and an emphasis on technique. Nevertheless this is a wonderful exhibition and I sensed a change this year perhaps because I did not recognise so many names. To see it in an hour is doable but if one is to read the captions of each photograph, as usual these are backlit transparencies, and possibly work out how it was made by looking at the details of equipment used, means that more than one visit is necessary. Some images are available online.
The arrangement of the exhibition into particular groupings has changed. One of these is now called the People’s Choice which is a collection of 25 images that are projected onto a screen and the viewer is asked to vote for one. This is an impossible task but I did find myself choosing one on an ad hoc basis. The image is of a flock of about half a dozen Fieldfares eating red berries against a background of snow. It was not so much the aesthetics of the image that drew me although they are striking, it was the fact that a short time ago I had seen a couple of Fieldfares, early arrivals, picking at red berries on a tree just by our house. There was however no snow!
Little it seems has been written in the way of critical appreciation of nature photography in general. I wonder why this is? An attempt to raise this question at The Open College of the Arts did not result in any great insights. Nature photography is limited in scope, it comments largely on the objective world with little import given to the subjective. Equipment often plays an important part and this further narrows the scope of nature photography along with the subject matter that although topical is not of interest to everyone although nature programmes on TV do prove very popular.
Are we seeing a rejection of nature photography by the art establishment? Nature and art have often been closely linked. If this is so, it might have more to do with general reservations about the status of photography as art which is not the same as painting although the forms of presentation in framed images is the same.
I found this exhibition enjoyable partly because I am intrigued by the subject matter, everything from evolutionary theories to the behaviour of mating Ruffs. However, what this exhibition does show is a bonding between art and science and that is contemporary.