A chat with Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2018 judges Stanley Breeden and David Evans.
The Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2018 competition drew a record 2300 submissions from 500 professional and amateur photographers in 16 countries. Each striking moment captured in time helps tell the 80 million-year-old story of our region, once the great southern continent of Gondwana, and strengthens viewers’ appreciation of our unique backyard.
The Australian Museum spoke to two judges of this year’s competition – multi-award-winning nature photographers Stanley Breeden and David Evans – on their process.
Is this your first time being a judge of the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition and how do you feel about it?
Stanley Breeden: I’m a first-time judge. It was a great pleasure on two fronts. First of all the photographs give an overall impression of the region’s plants, animals, and landscapes as no other collection can. I find that very exciting. Secondly, working with the other two judges led to stimulating discussions not only about the pictures on hand but also nature and photography in general.
David Evans: This is my second time as a judge, the first was in 2011. I remember being a finalist in this competition way back when it first started around 15 years ago, and ever since I’ve been a big fan of the quality of submissions, the quality of the exhibition and the genuine way in which the competition is run by the organisers. To be asked a second time to judge is honestly one of the highlights of my career.
Why was Tracey Jennings’ Hide and Seek selected as the winner?
SB: The winning photograph stood out for all three of us – our decision was unanimous. I think the choice of monochrome was inspired, removing the distraction of colour and emphasising the dynamism of the swirl of the school of fish, the shapes and tones. It also helps the viewer to imagine him or herself to be part of this magical underwater world.
DE: In a word, energy. It conveys an overwhelming sense of dynamism and yet the patterns and shapes created by the fish and the jetty maintain an element of simplicity. The placement of some key fish in the scene really give it a sense of a decisive moment rather than a lucky shot. It really took our breath away.
What was your personal favourite image (aside from the winner) in the exhibition and why?
SB: There are many great pictures. There’s the feeling for nature’s patterns such as Tree Ferns (Raoul Slater), the ambience of an animal in its natural habitat as in Approach (Charles Davis), or the character shown in a detailed portrait as in The Last Straw (Kim Borg). In the end I chose Posing Black-fronted Dotterels (Dan Giselsson). The soft light and the telephoto effect combine with the composition to give an arresting quality.
DE: The haunting image by Ben Goode, Broken Dreams – a depiction of burnt out bush after the Sampson Flat bushfires in the Adelaide Hills – really had an impact on me. There is a feeling of loss and yet the beauty of the landscape gets under my skin.
What is special about the bioregions of Australia and New Zealand, the Antarctic and New Guinea and what unique challenges does the environment here present?
SB: The region is special in that many millions of years ago, its components were all joined together. Over time they drifted apart, often great distances, yet echoes of their connection remain and can be seen in some plants and animals. The connection can be sensed, sometimes only subliminally.
DE: We are so far from everywhere, relative to other places in the world. I think the biggest challenges in this region relate to access, as so much of it is unpopulated. But therein lies its true beauty. Within the challenges lie the reward for those willing to go the extra mile.
What role do nature photographers have to play in the protection of our environment?
SB: Nature photographers have a crucial role to play in protecting the natural environment. It is in fact a responsibility. The role, I think, is twofold. One is to show the terrible things that are happening in nature as a direct result of human activity. Nature photographers can do this best. The other is to engage our soul with nature through pictures that stir our feelings and imaginations. An exhibition like this plays a vital part in this.
DE: A HUGE role. If people can't see it, they don't care about it. This has been proven time and time again. Photographers are the protectors of the world's special places in so many ways.
Do you have any advice for those considering entering the 2019 competition?
SB: My advice is go out into the natural world for the sheer joy of it, be inspired and take pictures and more pictures. The world needs them.
DE: Look at past finalists and winners and try to create unique images that you haven't seen done before. There are a lot of images that look similar, even if they are great images. It's the ones that stand out in some way, usually an unrepeatable moment, that commend attention from the judges.