Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 delivers clear message to world leaders
Wed 13 Oct 2021 | 10:57 am GMT Rob Hutchins | Products of Change Writer
Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand winner, Creation
It was a clear and concise call upon the world’s leaders for collective climate action that emanated from the balconies of the Natural History Museum last night, as the prestigious London venue and site of natural scientific research and discovery played host to the 57th Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards.The “remarkable edifice” provided the perfect setting for TV presenter, naturalist, and wildlife photographer, Chris Packham CBE and his co-host, photographer, ecologist, and conservationist Megan McCubbin, who made clear the message of the power of photography to move people and leaders to action in the fight for conservation, preservation and against climate change.An occasion for celebrating the beauty and wonder of nature and the talent of those that manage to capture it at its finest, its most poignant and hard-hitting – and often, its most bizarre – this year’s awards took on a rather more cautionary tone. With the world’s eyes turning to the UK in just a few weeks as leaders from across the globe descend upon Glasgow for COP26, it was a sense of urgency towards immediate and collaborative action that ran through the veins of the evening.Speaking of the history and his relationship with the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, Packham addressed viewers with recognition of the evolving nature of the awards, its entries, and the subject matter across each of its categories.“I remember in the ‘80s, it was very much about capturing the subject matter, and then the competition developed and it was far more artistic. These days, there’s a very powerful photojournalistic element to this competition. The competition has got some teeth,” he said.“And it needs to use those teeth at this critical time. We all know that our world is in the grips of a climate and bio-diversity crisis, and photography has a very important role to play.“These photographers have the capacity to communicate wonder, awe, but also the importance of that natural world to ourselves. And at this point, when we’re facing COP26 in just a few weeks time, and we need our global leaders to recognise the value of our natural world, then I believe that photography can play an instrumental role in guiding them in the right direction.”Wildlife Photographer of the YearMore than 50,000 entries from across 95 countries were whittled down to just 19 category winners, one Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner, and one overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner.It was the French underwater photographer and biologist, Lauren Ballesta who was declared this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his enigmatic image, Creation that captured – and are you ready for this – camouflage groupers exiting their milky cloud of eggs and sperm in an annual spawning that only takes place around the full moon in July in Fakarava, French Polynesia.Overfishing now threatens this vulnerable species, but it is here in Fakarava, where the image was captured, that the fish are protected within a special biosphere reserve.Photographer, Ballesta paid special thanks to the reserve for its work in protecting the species from overfishing, highlighting the importance of its work in enable unique flashes and moments of creation to occur.Chair of the judging panel, writer and editor, Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox OBE, said: “The image works on so many levels. It is surprising, energetic, and intriguing and has an otherworldly beauty. It also capture a magical moment – a truly explosive creation of life – leaving the tail end of the exodus of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.”Dr Doug Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, added: “In what could be a pivotal year for the planet, with vital discussions taking place at COP15 and COP26, Laurent Ballesta’s Creation is a compelling reminder of what we stand to lose if we do not address humanity’s impact on our planet.“The protection provided to this endangered species by the biosphere reserve highlights the positive difference we can make.”Young Wildlife Photographer of the YearMeanwhile, it fell to ten year old Vidyun R Hebbar to collect the overall award for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 for his colourful image, Dome Home – a picture of a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by. Hebbar first entered the competition when he was eight years old and enjoys photographing the often over looked creatures that live in the streets and parks near his home in the city of Bengaluru, India.Cox, said: “It’s such an imaginative way of photographing a spider. The picture is perfectly framed, the focus is spot on. You can see the spider’s fangs and the crazy weave of the trap, the threads like some delicate nerve network linked to the spider’s feet.“But the really clever bit is the addition of a creative backdrop – the bright colours of a motorised rickshaw.”The two grand title winners were selected from 19 category winners that spanned the liked of Animals in their Environment, Animal Portraits, and Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles. This year’s competition also saw three new categories added, including Oceans – The Bigger Picture and Wetlands – The Bigger Picture which were added to shine a spotlight on these crucial ecosystems.Displayed alongside insights from Natural History Museum scientists and experts, the 100 images will be showcased in lightbox displays at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the museum from October 15th 2021, before touring the UK and internationally to venues in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, USA, and others.