Great pictures, shame about the presentation

September 7, 2011 No Comments »

Every year, my partner and I try to visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition. The pictures are always inspiring, even if you’re not especially a wildlife fan. Actually, the categories are broader than the term ‘Wildlife’ suggests and include, for example, ‘In Praise of Plants and Fungi’ and ‘Wild Places’.

With over 40,000 entries from 90 countries, you can guarantee that the judges will find some striking images that will show you something you didn’t know or depict something familiar in a new light. You can see some of this year’s winning entries in this article on WalesOnline.

The show always opens at the Natural History Museum in London, but tours the UK and abroad. We usually catch it in London, but have also seen it in Bristol and even in Wellington, New Zealand.

This year, the 2010 exhibition has been showing in Cardiff. We went to the National Museum in Cathays Park, eagerly anticipating another visual treat.

It seemed strange that there were no displays in the main entrance hall mentioning the exhibition, or pointing to its location. We had to ask at the desk, where we were directed to go upstairs at the far end of the Natural History Gallery. On the way, there were two very small signs indicating the exhibition. You certainly wouldn’t have been drawn to it as a casual visitor to the museum.

In London, the pictures are back lit in a darkened gallery, giving brilliant clarity and colours. The photographs here are prints displayed in two tiers, the spotlights’ reflections making them quite hard to see well. This was exacerbated by the use of reflective glass on some of the pictures.

The information about the pictures in the lower tier was in relatively small print, and was displayed well below waist level. Good, perhaps, for children and wheelchair users, but very difficult to read for the rest of us without squatting or kneeling. Some of the pictures had been screwed to the display panels at an angle from the horizontal – surely those involved could see this or use a spirit level?

The exhibition was next to the leatherback turtle display which periodically features a deep booming recording explaining the exhibit. It’s also an area where small children run around noisily. I love to see children learning about nature, but an exhibition of this quality requires a certain calm atmosphere and low noise levels to allow the viewer to think about what is being shown.

I’m usually a big fan of our local museums, but overall, the whole thing felt very shabbily presented and lost so much of the power and impact of the parent exhibition. However, while there is a significant charge at the Natural History Museum, entry is free in Cardiff, so it won’t cost you anything to check it out before it closes on September 11th.

The actual content was as excellent as ever. It was good to see local resident Andy Rouse’s shot of a ‘Tiger stalking’ winning the  Endangered Wildlife category. Andy has also just received a “highly commended” for this photo of a gorilla in the 2011 competition, which will be his 9th award in a row – amazing and well done to Andy.

The 2011 exhibition is on at the Natural History Museum from 21 October 2011 – 11 March 2012, and we’ll make sure that’s where we see it. In fact, I’m going to book my half price National Express tickets before the concessionary fares for senior and disabled persons are withdrawn – just after I’ve qualified for the discount!

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