London’s Natural History Museum has been forced to rethink the entry requirements for its Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards.
Once again, a prizewinning entry has been subsequently disqualified. That image, entered in the 2017 competition and called The Night Raider, depicts an anteater near a termite mound in Brazil.
Despite the photographer, Marcio Cabral, protesting his innocence, the picture has currently been disallowed on the grounds that the anteater was most likely a taxidermy specimen – and had hence been long since dead.
A counter argument that the creature was not dead but, in fact, resting has been dismissed by the Natural History Museum.
‘The anteater was definitely deceased,’ asserted a member of the judging panel. ‘His total lack of movement was not, as the panel was told, due to him being tired and shagged out following a prolonged termite hunt. Nor do we find credible the explanation that the animal was pining for the Brazilian fjords.
‘Clearly that anteater was no more. He had ceased to be. He had expired and gone to meet his maker. He was a stiff. Bereft of life. He rests in peace. If he hadn’t been nailed to the termite hill, he would have been pushing up the daisies. His metabolic processes are now history. He’s off the twig. He’s kicked the bucket. He’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible. This was an ex-anteater!’
This is not the first time a winning competition entry has later been disallowed. In 2009, a photograph of a jumping, wild, Spanish wolf was disqualified when it was concluded that the creature had been sourced from a zoo.
Having just been hurled over a farm gate by four photography assistants, it was argued, at the time, that the animal had actually been very wild indeed.
‘Wild in the context of our competition, however,’ clarified a judging panel spokesperson, ‘means habitually living in the wild. It does not mean that a tame animal just happens to be very cross.’
Sources close to the competition’s organisers have reported concerns that further public allegations of enhanced or staged photography could undermine the credibility and prestige of the competition.
With this in mind, some observers have questioned the apparent disappearance of other winning photographs from the competition archive.
‘I wanted to re-examine the famous 2013 photograph of the six legged lion on the moon,’ said one photography critic, ‘but all traces of that image seem to have been erased. Also,’ she continued, ‘who could forget that wonderful 2010 picture of the levitating unicorn taken in Shangri-La? That too however, seems, inexplicably, to be currently unobtainable.’
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards have been criticised for appearing to favour experienced, professional photographers. It has been suggested that, if true, this might relate to enhancing the prestige of the prize. It might also, however, reflect a hope that such entrants would spend more time in the field and less time in zoos, at taxidermists or creatively using Photoshop.
‘It very much appears to me,’ opined one photographic journalist, ‘that the name of the person who takes the photograph, the context in which it is allegedly taken, and the photographic equipment used, may be more important than the images themselves. There are certainly many examples of mediocre work by well know photographers gaining success in the competition.
‘If this is the case,’ he concluded, ‘the panel may simply not be looking closely enough at the photographs, and are thus missing tell-tale signs of staging. For example, an underwater image from the 2007 competition, in its uncut form, had a frame surrounding it which resembled that of a Panasonic TV screen. This may well have been a case in point.’
In an attempt to avoid enhanced or staged images, the competition organisers are believed to be considering tougher guidelines for entries. These are thought to include:
1 – All creatures depicted must be recognisable as extant, and preferably personally known, by David Attenborough.
2 – Photographs must be taken in good daylight and contain sufficient additional detail to place them in a wild location. Ice cream vans and children’s play areas in shot would risk immediate disqualification.
3 – Entrants must agree to a lie detector test and other such examinations as the panel deems appropriate – although water boarding would only be employed where there was considerable concern about the veracity of an image.
4 – The backs of all images must be countersigned by a responsible person, in the manner of passport photographs, to confirm that no people wearing animal costumes appear in the pictures.
It is hoped that such measures will lead to a trouble free contest as it enters its 54th year.
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