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What We Learned This Week: Wildlife Viewed Two Very Different Ways

By David Schonauer   Friday September 20, 2019


How do you like your wildlife?

Fierce, or funny?

This week we spotlighted the finalists of the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which in its 55th year received some 50,000 entries from photographers from 100 different countries. The winners will be announced at London’s Natural History Museum on October 15 and will go on display there three days later. While the finalists announced by the contest included a number of heartwarming images of animals — for instance, photographer Ralf Schneider’s photo of a Weddell seal sleeping peacefully, a finalist in the black-and-white category — what stood out for many were the uncompromising scenes of the natural world at its most cutthroat.

Among the latter was Swiss photographer Adrian Hirschi’s photo (below) of the final moments of a hippo calf. The calf was with its mother in Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe, when a large bull hippo first chased her, then seized the calf in his mouth and killed it as the distraught mother looked on. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and reality.

Likewise, Spanish photographers Eduardo Del Álamo’s photo of a gentoo penguin fleeing for its life as a leopard seal bursts out of the water, teeth bared, presents the life-and-death struggle of nature (at top). UK-based photographer Peter Haygarth’s photo of a cheetah being set upon by a pack of African wild dogs comes with a subtext: Both species have disappeared from much of their former ranges, with fewer than 7,000 left of each. Another shot, by photographer Matthew Ware, shows a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle on a beach at Alabama’s Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. At a distance, it was a cute scene. On closer inspection, Ware saw that the turtle was being strangled to death by cord attached to a beach chair.

Nature photography such as this forces us to consider the natural world in all its beauty and hostility, as well as the effect humans are having on wildlife. The imagery also can help spur humans to set aside places where nature can unfold as it will.

This week we also featured the shortlist from this year’s Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards, a competition that presents a more congenial idea of nature by serving up images of chill chimps, devious deer, and Daniel Fernandez’s photo of a Japanese macaque that, noted NPR, seems to be issuing a Wu-Tang sign (above).

The organizers of the contest view it as another way of raising awareness about the endangered environment. The contest has partnered with Born Free, a wildlife advocacy group, and on the contest’s website there is a list of suggestions for "how to be a conservationist.”

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:
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1. Skrebneski Documented, 1948-2018"

"When I take a photograph, I crop it and turn it and move it and change the coloring. I do black and white mostly, so you can make it real bright or real dark," notes photographer Victor Skrebneski. Born in Chicago in 1929, Skrebneski became an institution there as a studio portrait photographer and has released his latest book, Skrebneski Documented, 1948-2018 (Rizzoli). It is a compendium of images that accommodate trends but also transcend them as the photographer seeks a classicism and order that seems to be missing from today's world, we noted.


2. Ed Kashi Recontextualizes Photojournalism In the "Enigma Room"

Is coding the future of photojournalism? "Ever since digital cameras, and particularly ever since Hipstamatic and Instagram, photography is coding — it's pixels and zeros and ones," says acclaimed photojournalist Ed Kashi. Two years ago, Kashi and his studio staff began looking through his archive with the idea of producing a book. Instead, they created an experimental film that's been on view at this year's Photoville festival in Brooklyn. "We wanted to use coding to recontextualize my work," Kashi told PPD. "This is about how to we play with the visual language we have now to present work in a compelling way.”


3. An Intimate View of Womanhood in Middle Age

Signs of aging in women “are treated as though they ought to be invisible, which makes the subject a natural one for Elinor Carucci, a photographer who has long been drawn to the disconcerting closeup,” noted The New Yorker. The subject matter of most photos in Carucci’s series “Midlife” is unremarkable: a smudge of lipstick; the knuckles of a hand; a gray hair; a ripple of cellulite. What is unusual is the intensely up-close focus on the details of her own body and the intimacy of her portraits of family members.


4. Stunning Aerial Views of Iceland and Greenland

Once you see German photographer  Ben Simon Rehn’s aerial images of Greenland, you’ll understand why Donald Trump wanted to buy the place. Maybe the US should also buy Iceland, because Rehn’s series “Art of Nature” features astonishing images of that country, too. The photographs, featured by My Modern Met, show the abstraction that nature often causes, as winding rivers and melting ice create marvelous patterns. “Water and sediments washed out of the country create the most stunning forms and hues,” Rehn writes.


5. Charlie Cole, Who Captured the Tiananmen "Tank Man," Dies at 64

In May 1989, nearly a decade after he had moved to Japan from the United States, photographer Charlie Cole was sent to Beijing to cover student protests for Newsweek. When he arrived, the peak of the protests seemed to have passed and most publications had started sending their photographers elsewhere. The magazine, Cole said later, told him to stay put. On June 5, Cole viewed Tiananmen Square from a balcony as tanks rolled in. Then a lone man emerged and stood in front of the armored column. Cole’s image of the scene, winner of the 1990 World Press Photo competition, has come to transcend that moment of defiance, noted The Washington Post. Cole died on Sept. 5 at his home in Bali. He was 64.

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