The world’s best wildlife photography reveals a fragile, beautiful realm


Mathew Berg, Deakin University and Jessica Williams, University of Melbourne

From a leopard slipping through a Mumbai alleyway to giant cuttlefish courting under the sea, the striking images featured in the current Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition are at once beautiful, technically astounding and, often, incredibly moving.

Before the widening rupture between humans and nature, creating images of animals was of the utmost importance: animals were among the first subject matter for painting. In his essay Why Look at Animals, the late and renowned art critic John Berger argues that animals “first entered the imagination as messengers and promises”.

Wildlife photography joins in this ancient representative tradition, giving new life to animals as symbols and storytellers for the natural world.

Nayan Khanolkar spent four months waiting for this shot of a leopard roaming the suburbs of Mumbai, which won the Urban category.
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Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the annual competition run by the Natural History Museum of London. From modest beginnings in 1965, with fewer than 400 entries, it has developed into one of the largest and most prestigious photographic competitions in the world.

This year, the competition received over 42,000 entries from almost 100 countries. From these, an international jury selected 100 images across 18 categories, constituting the touring exhibition. It’s currently being hosted, for the third time, at Geelong’s splendid National Wool Museum. This is the only Victorian venue to host the exhibition, under the direction of Padraic Fisher and senior curator Georgia Melville.

Willem Kruger snapped this dynamic action shot of a yellow-billed hornbill foraging for termites in South Africa.
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In Geelong, the images are complemented by The Dead Zoo, a subtle addition to the exhibition space of taxidermy displays drawn from the Wool Museum’s own collection. There’s also an ambient soundscape produced by Joel Carnegie, and the parallel Geelong by Nature exhibition, a local wildlife photography competition.

Both competitions underscore what a demanding pursuit wildlife photography can be, requiring an enormous commitment to capturing the perfect shot. Think long hours spent in freezing conditions, with a constant regime of pushups just to keep warm – a scenario endured by Andrew Parkinson while photographing mountain hares on a Scottish icefield!

Australian photographer Scott Portelli captured giant cuttlefish in his image Collective Courtship.
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This enthusiastic persistence is increasingly enabled by the proliferation of non-specialist equipment, such as smartphones and the GoPro camera, as used by Tim Laman – the overall winner of Photographer of the Year for his six-photo series Entwined Lives. Taking in a sweeping treetop view of the Indonesian rainforest, the vertigo-inducing portrait of an orangutan is spectacular.

Like many of the entries, the photograph’s grandeur is a culmination of artistry, originality and technical excellence. The visually sumptuous images are coupled with engaging tales of the exotic locations, and the supreme effort and persistence involved in their creation – along with a healthy dose of serendipity and great timing.

Tim Laman spent three days climbing fig trees in the Indonesian forest, placing remotely triggered GoPro cameras above the canopy.
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With a direct gaze that seems to reflect our own, Laman’s subject also conveys a sense of intimacy and solitary pathos; significant, perhaps, if one considers the endangered status of the Bornean orangutan.

With the growing accessibility of portable or remotely activated gear like the GoPro, there’s a sense of ongoing growth and democratisation of photography competitions. Through this, we are given scope for deeper immersion and understanding of a natural world subject to, and often imperilled by, the inexorable footprint of humanity.

After weeks of scouting, UK photograher Sam Hobson was able to gain the trust of a family of urban foxes.
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A case in point is the winner of one of the photojournalism categories, Australian Paul Hilton’s image of a mass of illegally hunted pangolins, seized before their intended export while frozen from Sumatra and laid out to thaw. Reminiscent of spiral seashells in an abstract, almost monochrome composition, the details of their tightly curled bodies emerge only on closer inspection.

It’s a striking image, but one with a tragic back-story. Few people, before seeing this exhibition, are likely to have even known what a pangolin is, and certainly not that these small, critically endangered mammals are the most-trafficked animals in the world.

Australian Paul Hilton won the Wildlife Photojournalist category with his image of some 4,000 smuggled pangolins.
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The combination of artistry and a strong environmental narrative is a recurring theme throughout the exhibition, and one that undoubtedly motivates the photographers themselves. Featured entrant Douglas Gimesy, another Australian photojournalist, cites changing people’s behaviour as a central driver for his projects.

In his tender image Caring for Joey, Gimesy underlines the ongoing issue of high-speed kangaroo road deaths on Kangaroo Island in the hope of advocating for improved governance and community awareness. It’s a sentiment that surely resonates with photographers and visitors to the exhibit alike, as they contemplate the wild theatre of our natural environment, and the diverse species that share in it.


The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition runs from January 15 to May 14 at the National Wool Museum in Geelong. It will then tour Australia.

The Conversation

Mathew Berg, Research Fellow, Deakin University and Jessica Williams, PhD researcher in networked art practices, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Ultra, super, clean coal power? We’ve heard it before


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Replacing old coal power stations with new “ultra-supercritical” stations could help meet Australia’s greenhouse gas targets, according to research commissioned by Resources Minister Matt Canavan. Other analysts have reacted with scepticism.

Echoing recent prime ministers, Canavan retorted that these criticisms were part of an “ideological” attack on coal:

Coal has an important role to play as Australia and the rest of the world reduce carbon dioxide emissions… Australia has the resources to be a low-cost and efficient energy superpower. Access to affordable and reliable power underpins our economy and is the key to long-term jobs in the manufacturing sector.

This is not the first time Canavan has put his weight behind increasing Australia’s coal production to “help the environment”.

But technological promises and government support for coal’s bright future stretch back almost 40 years, long before the election of Tony “coal is good for humanity” Abbott, and have been entirely bipartisan, as have claims that Australian coal is especially clean.

Early days

The NSW was funding “supercoal” research for air-pollution reasons from the early 1980s. Climate change entered the fray in 1988, when delegates at the Australian Coal Association conference were told:

Coal’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is small… Means of controlling C0₂ emissions from coal-fired plant are considered best achieved by improved overall operating efficiency using new technology, rather than by endeavouring to capture C0₂ emissions.

The early Labor advocate of climate action, Graham Richardson, told a reporter in July 1989:

Fortunately we use mostly – but not entirely – the cleanest coal in the world. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve the technology and so limit how much carbon dioxide is blown up the spout.

(Times change; Richardson recently called on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to recant on his “silly” green goals.)

The same year the visiting president of the US National Coal Association told a government committee that, while much of the low-emissions technology was still in the laboratory stage, he was confident it could be applied soon to plants using coal to produce energy.

In 1991 Australian government funds supported an international conference on clean coal in Sydney.

After Australia’s first climate policy, the National Greenhouse Response Strategy, was agreed in December 1992, it quickly became clear that the Commonwealth was not going to stand in the way of state-level support for new coal-power stations.

On March 21 1994, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change became international law. Coincidentally, Singleton Council in New South Wales approved a new coal-fired power station. Greenpeace launched a legal challenge, but this failed in November 1994. The State Electricity Commission of Victoria’s greenhouse reduction plans died with privatisation.

Peak (clean) coal

It is debatable, but Labor perhaps had more concern – for both climate change and coalminers’ jobs – than the incoming Howard government. The Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council in 1999 suggested Australia ratify the Kyoto Protocol and see it as an opportunity and spur to new technologies.

This fell on John Howard’s deaf ears, but a December 2002 report, chaired by Rio Tinto’s chief technologist and government chief scientist Robin Batterham, was taken up, and the enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS) was born. A COAL21 plan followed in 2004, and the Australian Coal Association Low Emissions Technologies group was formed.

Howard’s enthusiasm for coal over renewables was such that he even called a “secret” meeting of fossil fuel producers to advise on lower emissions technologies.

The 2004 Energy White Paper continued the trend in support for CCS over renewables.

Labor’s innovation in 2007 was to say yes to both. As opposition leader, Kevin Rudd announced he would bring in a National Clean Coal Centre.

Had the Coalition won the 2007 election, it would have removed the Renewable Energy Target and replaced it with a scheme that would have allowed coal-with-CCS to be considered “low carbon”.

In 2008 the coal association spruiked “NewGenCoal” in television adverts.

It all started to go wrong in 2009, shortly after the launch of the expensive and controversial Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, Rudd’s brainchild.

Former Liberal minister Ian MacFarlane, who had previously urged the coal industry to sell its message, told ABC’s Four Corners:

The reality is, you are not going to see another coal-fired power station built in Australia. That’s, that’s a simple fact. You can talk about all the stuff you like about carbon capture storage, that concept will not materialise for 20 years, and probably never.

Geology intervened as the Queensland ZeroGen project ended in late 2010, when the state government decided to stop throwing taxpayers’ money at it.

And in 2013 it emerged that the coal association’s funding for low-emissions technologies had been broadened to include “promoting the use of coal”.

While there is now a functioning CCS plant in Canada, in Australia CCS limps on and the sums involved now are pitifully small.

Dark days ahead

Three concepts from the study of technological innovation may help us understand what is going on.

The first is the “hype cycle” – the observation that initial unrealistic enthusiasm for a shiny new technology goes up like a rocket and down like a stick, followed by a more gradual, tempered enthusiasm over time (for a recent appraisal see here).

The second is the sailing ship effect. When challenged by steamships, the incumbent technology added more sails, automated sailors and so on, trying to keep up. But ultimately it was in vain – a new technology won out.

Thirdly, supporters of incumbent technologies highlight teething problems in the challenger technologies, in what academics call “discursive battles”.

It’s fair to guess three things. Promises of clean coal, high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal power and bio-energy carbon capture and storage(BECCS) will escalate, but perhaps learning from the public mockery of the last two efforts – Australians for Coal and Little Black Rock.

Protests, by people who agree with James Hansen’s 2009 assessment that coal-fired power stations are death factories, will continue. Legal challenges will escalate.

Governments – state and federal – will keep wrestling with the greased pig that is the “energy trilemma”. 2017 will be bloody, and noisy.

The Conversation

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.