Wow. Just, wow! Having been to the Natural History Museum many times before, it was a very surreal experience to be sat in the entrance hall, eating dinner under the huge Diplodocus skeleton, surrounded by some of the best wildlife photographers in the world, watching some of the best wildlife photos in the world, on a big screen. But the most surreal and humbling of all, was seeing my own image, Snow Pounce, pop up on the huge screen as a slide show of the 100 winning images from the 2012 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition played through.
I must apologise that all my recent posts have been competition themed. This is the last one, honest! Every year I do a little mention about the announcement of the winners of this competition and given this year I was incredibly lucky enough to actually be part of it with a Commended image, I figured I’d do a little post about the amazing awards night!
And I must urge you, if you don’t read this whole post, please do at least make sure you read the final entry to it at the bottom. Thank you.
DINNER UNDER A DIPLODOCUS!
It was such a fantastic evening and one that I have long hoped to attend, but never expected I would. As we entered the Natural History Museum, the main hallway was curtained off and we were ushered around the side to one of the many large corridors for a pre-awards mingle. A few drinks and nibbles later and we were asked to head to the main hall to take our seats for dinner. And what a site. Where usually there are crowds of tourists and queues, there was now a sea of beautifully laid tables, an army of waiters and waitresses, that giant Diplodocus at one end and a giant screen set up on the steps at the other. Everyone was taking photos of the room as they entered, and so it seemed almost rude of me not do the same. Alas it’s not the best quality, but the iPhone 5 panoramic mode did it’s best to capture the scene. We had a great seat, up close to the skeleton and almost under it’s tail!
The awards themselves were presented by Phillipa Forrester and Yann Arthus-Bertrand (who dropped several amusing comments that it was a great honour to be asked to present the awards, but that he had never actually won anything in them) via a nice presentation slideshow of the runner-ups and category winners. Each category winner would then be called to the stage over a huge round of applause to collect their prize and say a few small words. After seeing the 50 commended images that were released a month previous, it was lovely seeing the remaining images and hear the ooooh’s and aaaah’s as the new photos appeared on the huge screen in front of everyone for the first time. There were some incredibly worthy winners, and some very brief but sometimes moving speeches. None more so than from one of the fellow photographers on my table, Kim Wolhuter, who’s image ‘Dog Days’ won The Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species. Kim and his wife are both hugely passionate about the plight of the Wild Dog and it showed in buckets as he thanked everyone and spoke briefly about his image. Touching stuff and an incredibly nice guy to boot!
After the awards, but crucially before the winners were announced, dinner followed. The anticipation for those who were in the running for overall winner must have been huge. I don’t mind saying, there is one up side to not being a category winner…and that is, you get to enjoy the delicious food that was served, nerves free, before the overall winner was announced. Ok, who am I trying to kid, that’s not an upside. I’d much rather go hungry and win than stuff my face and not! But with bellies full the moment of truth arrived and of course as you will no doubt know by now, the overall winner and 2012 Wildlife Photographer of the Year was Paul Nicklen with his fantastic Bubble-jetting Emperors (This was also Paul’s third award of the night. Amazing!). And let’s not forget Owen Hearn who has of course been crowned as the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year with his image Flight Path. Both photographers took to the stage to standing ovations and both were understandably humbled and thrilled to have won. Two very worthy winners indeed! They were each presented with custom trophies which featured the subject of the winning photo. A nice touch!
With the excitement of the awards done, the dinner party was over and we were urged to leave the hall and make our way down the now candle lit coridoors of the museum, to the exhibition itself. The hall way looked incredible all lit up with hundreds of floor standing candles and my wife and I somehow managed to get away ahead of the crowds and ended up literally being the first people to step foot in the exhibition, and again, wow! As with every year, the way it’s been presented is incredible. The room is dimly lit and the walls are all black, making the backlit images really pop and come to life. It was like seeing all the images again for the first time. And having them all to ourselves briefly before the crowds started to obscure them was quite the experience. I’ve been to the exhibition many times before and entered the competition the last four years and admired the incredible work each year, so it felt even more incredible to see my image displayed amongst the others for the first time. Sounds cheesy, but it was a truly unforgettable moment!
We spent a good hour mingling with the other photographers and soaking up the images all over again, and I met some really nice people whose work I’ve followed for many years. But alas the night would have to draw to a close as the reality of catching the last train loomed. On the way out we were handed doggy bags containing a copy of the 2012 competition book, Portfolio 22 (featuring Jasper Doest’s excellent ‘Relaxation’ Snow Monkey on the cover), as well as other merchandise themed around the images from the competition. It was an incredible night and we loved every minute of it. It’s just a shame it went by so quickly! However, it wasn’t over quite as I did also attend the media and NHM member previews of the exhibition the following morning and evening, which was lovely as I met some nice people and answered lots of questions about Snow Pounce from the enthusiastic crowds. It was a perfect end to the experience and one that I hope I’m lucky enough to take part in again one day. It was quite the ride and I’ll be incredible excited (and slightly envious!) for anyone who gets to experience the awards in the future, and everything else that goes with being successful in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
And for those wondering, yes I did wear a suit to the awards. The photo above was taken the next evening
DON’T JUST TAKE MY WORD FOR IT
This years exhibition is superb. And if you would like to see Paul Nicklens winning shot and all the others looking their very best, then you simply must visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. The images are incredible and seeing them backlit and huge is infinitely better than viewing them on a small monitor.
IN MEMORY OF
I’d actually like to end this blog post with a little tribute. Among the runner-ups and category winners was Sweden’s Magnus Carlsson who’s beautiful image was runner up in the Wildscapes category. It was announced that sadly Magnus had died in an aviation accident a few weeks before the awards, and so Phillipa read out his own words on the photo, which he had thankfully provided before the accident. It was incredibly touching and emotional and I must admit I found myself welling up, especially when he had said, like myself and others there, it had been a dream come true for him to be part of the competition. I knew just how he felt and I found it incredibly sad to think he was unable to fully appreciate the full experience that came with it. Magnus was only 30 years old and he was clearly a very talented photographer and one that I’m sure will be missed not just by his friends and family, but also by the photographic world. I think it’s wonderful that he had been successful in the competition before his tragic accident, with an image that was by coincidence named Heavenly View. It seemed only fitting to end this blog post in memory of Magnus and leave you with his awarded photo.