The Forces of Nature: Photography and a Slippery Skate at the NHM

13 Dec

I don’t think I’ve been to the Natural History Museum since my childhood when I went to see the dinosaurs but this trip confirmed it is certainly somewhere I should visit more often.

The Natural History Museum. Own photograph. 

I went to see their Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition where more than 100 photographs from 17 categories are on display.  The competition is in its 47th year and is a much-loved fixture of the NHM’s calendar.

Petr Simon, Racket-tail in the rain, 2011. Courtesy of Petr Simon and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via   

The exhibition doesn’t maintain to be an academic show – it is a collection of stunning images.  Walking around the space, my first thought was that all these photographers should be winners.  The works are stunning, the kind we all naïvely think we could have taken but most of us don’t have the skill, timing or access.

Eric Pierre, The Charge, 2011. Courtesy of Eric Pierre and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via

The Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year prize is for a sequence of six photos that tell a memorable story.  The winner of this year’s award, Daniel Beltrá, a specialist in environmental and conservation stories, is also the holder of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year.  Beltrá’s series The Price of Oil charts the worst oil-spill in history off the coast of Louisiana in 2010. Disaster photos are often harrowing and his images made me shudder.  Beltrá does not deliberately shock – he is just showing reality and its harsh consequences.  Still Life in Oil shows eight pelicans rescued from this spill and awaiting their second bout of cleaning.  Although Beltrá has created art out of disaster, it’s not the beauty or technical perfection of his photograph that stays with you, it’s the heart-breaking severity of the situation that inspires people to take action.

Daniel Beltrá, Still Life in Oil, 2011.  Courtesy of Daniel Beltrá and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via

Ant Rider comes from the category Behaviour: all other animals which focuses on animals that are not mammals or birds who behave in ways that are seldom witnessed and little-known or understood.  Bence Máté had to work at night in the Costa Rican rainforest, lying face-down to capture the leaf-cutter ants at their busiest.  He used four flashes; two to light the branch ‘road’ being used by the worker ants and two more as backlights.  The hierarchy of these insects is fascinating.  The ant on the leaf has the job of chasing away parasitic flies, while the larger worker ant carries the leaf fragment to be used as compost to grow fungus for the food on which these ants rely.

Bence Máté, Ant Rider, 2011. Courtesy of Bence Máté and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via

Not all of the photographs concentrate solely on animals; the exhibition also focuses on our natural landscapeDenis Budhov’s photograph, In the Valley of the Giants, shows the aftermath of an eruption from the Kljuchevsky volcano where thick lava streams glowed at dusk under a lenticular cloud.

One of the hardest things about walking around this exhibition was trying to single out photographs to discuss here as I could gladly have written about them all.


Denis Budhov, In the Valley of the Giants, 2011. Courtesy of Denis Budhov and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via

Feeling festive, I couldn’t help but look at Territorial Strut, showing a robin in the snow.  As the temperatures drop in winter, robins grace our gardens searching for food.  Ross Hoddinott captured this by setting his exposure meter so it wasn’t fooled by the snow’s brightness and used a shutter-speed fast enough to freeze the movement, but slow enough to blur the scattering snow.  The title of this photograph reflects the robin’s pose as he scatters snow and strikes a warning to an approaching male.

Ross Hoddinott, Territorial Strut, 2011. Courtesy of Ross Hoddinott and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via

These perfect images capture nature as we wish we could see it.  The interaction these photographers have experienced is mind-blowing and their recognition here is much deserved.

Paul Souders, The Grace of Giants, 2011. Courtesy of Paul Souders and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via

It was only fitting to head outside to skate at the enchanting open-air ice rink.


The Natural History Museum ice-rink.  Own photograph.

But, of course, just in time for our session the heavens opened.  It must be something about me and outdoor rinks.  I skate every week but, as the ice began to get slippery, I wasn’t prepared to risk falling again and the bar beckoned.  I’m safer at Ally Pally!

Veolia Environnement: Wildlife Photographer of the Year is at the Natural History Museum until 11th March 2012,

2 Responses to “The Forces of Nature: Photography and a Slippery Skate at the NHM”

  1. florist penang December 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    All the pictures here are so beautiful.I am a photographer myself and like to look at others too.

    • chloenelkin December 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      I’m pleased you like the works – it is a really amazing exhibition. All the images are stunning.

      Thanks for reading.

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