I have been looking through the most recent portfolio of photographs from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year as well as some of the images in this year’s Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) annual exhibition. Moving well beyond the technical aspects of aperture settings, shutter speeds and compostion there isn’t a single one of these images that does not deliver revelations to the imagination as well as the eye.
The great achievement of these images of the natural world is that they grant us visions of the subject that we might not otherwise see, whether that’s in another, more conventional image or whether it’s in an actual encounter. Yes, there is no substitute for personal experiences of the natural world but in the hands of photographers and artists who are masters of their art then even the most familiar wildlife, encountered perhaps on a daily basis, is elevated to a different status.
Sometimes, the image says something about a place or a subject that we, if only we had the skill, had always wanted to say. We see and image and inwardly give a little cry of recognition: “Yes, that is what that animal is to me, they’ve ‘captured’ it!” Joyously, this also happens with the most abstracted images. Fields of poppies, the colours of leaves and pigment, reduced to their most basic shapes and colours give an extra dimension built of layers of emotional reactions to the natural world.
Just as the first photographers removed their lens covers to allow the image to burn onto the glass plate, the newly discovered connections that these images uncover for us, latch on to our consciousness. As well as helping us see the natural world in a different light, they can just as well grant us new visions of ourselves.