I recently had the good fortune to visit the Royal Ontario Museum in downtown Toronto. Affectionately known as the ROM, until March 23, 2014, the Museum is hosting the North American premiere of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, an internationally renowned exhibition that comes from the Natural History Museum in London.
Now in its 49th year, Wildlife Photographer of the Year is bold, beautiful and breathtaking. Collectively, it celebrates nature and wildlife, and features 100 photographs selected from more than 43,000 entries from around the world.
There are a variety of categories, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, plants and fungi, underwater species, earth’s environments, invertebrates, black and white, and natural design. Each photograph on display is in a backlit Lightbox and measures 100 x 100 cm (39.37 x 39.37 inches), optimizing the viewing experience.
In addition to an adult competition, there are also three categories for budding photographers: 10 Years and Under; 11-14 Years; and 15-17 Years. The talent of this group of young people is beyond impressive. Each category is awarded a Winner, Runner-up, and in some cases, a Commended and/or Specially Commended mention.
To my eye, (and I’m the first to admit I’m judging only on visceral appeal versus the degree of technical difficulty and/or accomplishment), some of the winners were clear-cut, although with others I might have picked the runner-up. The same held true for my companion that day at the ROM. While I would linger over one photograph for several minutes, mesmerized, she would pass by it with a transitory glance, only to be completely captivated by another.
That subjectivity, of what resonates with us, and what doesn’t, is true for all creative expression, whether it’s in the form of photography, art, film, or novels. In the case of this particular competition, only 0.2 percent of those who submitted their work were accepted.
Daunting odds, even for the most talented optimist. And yet, my guess is that many of those 42,900+ entrants who didn’t make the cut will try again in year 50. And so they should. To quote Sinclair Lewis: “It is impossible to discourage the real writers—they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.” Why should photographers be any different?
To view the entire gallery of photographs online, click here.