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Review: Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition 2021

11 November, 2021

As regular readers will know, we’re a bit obsessed with photography. How can it convey abstract concepts like climate change? Is it ethical to make art from a crisis? Where words fail, can images drive people to act?

Last week, we were excited to visit a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum that grapples with many of these questions: the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021. The exhibition consists of 100 images selected from over 50,000 international entries, and judged for “originality, narrative, technical excellence and ethical practice”. The resulting photographs are wondrous (a spider’s web illuminated by the light of a passing tuktuk), playful (the moment a grizzly bear discovered a hidden camera trap), excruciating (the second before a mosquito bites into skin) and, often, heart-breaking.

The question of how photographers capture the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss is answered in myriad ways. Some are from a distance, as when what appears to be a vibrant abstract painting is revealed as a drone’s-eye view of heavy metals seeping into a river – the result of mining metals to make mobile phones. Others are up-close, like the horrific image of a baby seal screaming in pain as it is caught in an abandoned fishing net.

With the world’s eyes on COP26, and in danger of glazing over amidst the reams of sustainability jargon and confusing commitments, this exhibition is a timely and beautiful reminder of what is really at stake – and how much we have to lose.

By Sarah Howden

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