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Take a walk on the wild side

Five months later than planned, but finally we get to prowl around the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at The Base. Practice your best Attenborough voice, we're going in.

WHAT? WHERE?

Art galleries are open, so I seized the opportunity to whizz over to The Base at Greenham – a Muddy Award-winning arts centre – to see the world-renowned Wildlife Photographer of The Year 56 exhibition. The show is on loan from London’s Natural History Museum, and Newbury is the first stop on its world tour.

The competition was launched in 1965, attracting 351 entries. Today, they receive 49,000 entries from all over the world from professionals and amateurs, including some seriously talented kids. Winning images are selected for their creativity, originality, and technical excellence by an international panel of experts. And this is your chance to see the best in show.

The Base Gallery neon

WHAT TO EXPECT?

The Base is a small gallery space, that draws some of the biggest names in art. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition normally kicks off the new year, but Covid slammed on the brakes. But we’re not going to let a global pandemic get in the way of our culture fix. The exhibition showcases our planet’s diversity and fascinating animal behaviour, but the most powerful shots for me were from images of animal cruelty inflicted by humans. You’re even given a shock warning from the staff, before you set off on your mooch.

WPOTY The Base Showbiz 2

The Photojournalism category is indeed a tough watch, but it will certainly make you think twice about animals as ‘entertainment’ when you see Kirsten Luce’s image of a polar bear forced to perform tricks in a circus or elephants posing for selfies in Thailand. Tiger Tiger, Burning Out by Paul Hilton is also shocking – a surreal image of burning tusks and tigers confiscated from illegal traders. It’s definitely not for the fainthearted, but sometimes it’s important to look. Even if it’s just a passing glance.

The Base WPOTY puffins

Of course, it’s not all shock and awe. Most of the photographs are a celebration of our natural world – from the bizarre behaviour to the unique survival skills. Evie Easterbrook’s shot Paired Up Puffins (above) – is a lesson in passion and patience. She visited Staple Island in Northumberland for the day and waited by a grassy burrow for this breeding pair with their bright plummage to be ready for their close up. It’s even more remarkable given she is in the 11-14 year old category.

The BAse WPOTY

The grand prize winner: Wildlife Photographer of the Year went to Russian photographer Sergey Gorshkov for his rare shot of a tree-hugging Siberian tiger (above). It took 10 months to get it, so deserved the top prize and a lifetime’s supply of Kendal Mint Cake.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 56 Animal portrait great grey owl full moon

I also loved Jonas Classon’s Night Hunter (above) – capturing a great grey owl during a full moon as it raised its claw to strike a vole. It looks like it’s come straight out of Harry Potter. Timing, luck and skill all rolled into one.

THE VERDICT

The exhibition is more than a large format National Geographic magazine. The images are extraordinary. A testimony to the skill and patience of the photographers. As as a punter, they’re thought-provoking and powerful, without being preachy. Natural history is often hijacked by eco activism – for some that can be a turn off. The save the planet and animal cruelty messages are all represented here, but it’s more subtle than the usual sledgehammer approach. It’s worth noting, how old some of the winners are, too. It might even give your screen weary kids the kick up the bum they need to go out and snap some nature. But first, they’ll want cake. Good job the Honesty Café is onsite to fuel their creativity.

Demand is high for the limited run of this exhibition, book early to secure your time slot.

The Wildlife Photography of the Year 56 Exhibition is on until 16 June at The Base, Greenham. Tickets cost £9. Under 16s £6. Under 5s free.

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