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About the Art: Sonia Levy

We spoke to artist Sonia Levy about her involvement in working with the Horniman on Project Coral and her upcoming film For the Love of Corals.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a French artist living in London. I studied fine art in France and later went on to follow a programme in Arts and Politics (SPEAP) at Sciences Po, a political science school in Paris. It furthered my approach of working across disciplines exploring the points of articulation between scientific and artistic fields to address societal issues.

Climate change is a consequence of our ways of perceiving the natural world as a resource to be endlessly extracted.

I am currently interested in how art might help redefine our relationship with the Earth. Livability on our planet is dependent on the presence of its many life forms. I think we are starting to see those new scientific understandings enacted in environmental conservation but we also need the arts to filter those paradigm-shifting ideas into our society and culture.

What is the film about?

For the Love of Corals is an artist film that follows Project Coral through the different stages involved in reproducing the corals behind-the-scenes at the Horniman.

It documents the daily labour of the team caring for these endangered beings as well as the corals themselves, encouraging attention to their intricacy. From spawning induced in lab-tanks replicating lunar and solar cycles, to the delicate IVF procedures, as well as the constant care required to keep the corals alive throughout their life cycle.

For the Love of Corals (2018) Trailer from Sonia Levy.

The film also includes shots of artefacts from the Horniman's collections, such as the 19th-century Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions. The opening sequence of the film confronts images of Atkins’ seaweed cyanotypes to close-up shots of the corals.

  • Coral close-up and Anna Atkinsâ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Soni, Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

Anna Ricciardi’s essay on Anna Atkins, written for Edward Chell's 2015 exhibition Bloom at the Horniman, really moved me. She says:

As we face an accelerating environmental crisis in this century, Atkins’ seaweed impressions surface with something like visionary timing, having slipped their privately-published moorings, to remind us about extinctions past and present, those erasures and absences yet to come.

It deeply resonated with an angle I wanted to take, a feminist approach to questioning the moment we find ourselves in. Climate change, ecological collapses: who are the most affected and vulnerable?

There is a growing sense of an interlaced precarity between humans and the other life forms with whom we share this planet. I think it might be crucial to develop a more inclusive sense of “we”.

A site like the Horniman Museum and Gardens, with its Natural History Gallery, is a powerful place to revisit our past, our ways of looking at and relating to nature.

It is also a compelling site to build and develop new connections as seen with the work of Project Coral.

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. Photo: Obsidian Coast, Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast

The soundtrack was made in collaboration with sound artist Jez Riley French and involved many recording techniques made on site.

We used hydrophones and underwater microphones to capture the sound of some of Project Coral’s critters. Contact microphones picked up the resonance of surfaces around the Museum and the laboratory tanks. They are able to capture vibrations through contact with solid objects.

Adapted geophones, used to transfer ground movement to sound, allowed us to record the vibrations of the complex machinery sustaining the corals’ life. Electromagnetic signals emanating from the laboratory equipment were also captured with coil pick up microphones.

Jez also captured the sound of the skeleton of a coral dissolving, alluding to ocean acidification. These recordings, as well as music from composer Georgia Rodgers, are all part of the soundtrack composed for the film.

I also created a large-scale tapestry made from cyanotypes on fabric, which is part of the film installation. Titled Atkins Blue the work is a direct reference to Anna Atkins, an acknowledgement to her contribution in the history of science and art.       

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast

In conjunction with my exhibition, Obsidian Coast commissioned a reading list; We are All Bodies of Water, from scholar Astrida Neimanis.

What drew you to Project Coral?

I spent a spawning season with the team at Project Coral, through the invitation of Jamie Craggs. I was really fascinated by what they achieved.

To be the first in the world to successfully induce coral to spawn by recreating the environmental conditions of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as other locations like Singapore, in the basement of the Horniman, for me was a powerful and striking image.

Coral bleaching appears simultaneously as a sign of climate change, their death providing visual evidence of the rising of the sea temperature. As anthropologist Irus Braverman has put it, corals emerge as a 'catalyst for action'* for many activists, scientists and artists.

Corals are stunning entities and coral reefs are some of the most beautiful ecological assemblages on Earth. The corals’ ability to perplex the notion of individuality, the distinction between self and other. There is something interesting about the figure of the coral and its capacity to blur the boundaries between organism and environment, expressing this idea that we are environments for others, as well as not being separated from our environment.

I have also worked with Project Coral to produce a short film, viewable on site at the Horniman's Aquarium, as well as online. We worked with Jamie Craggs’ research footage to tell Project Coral's ongoing work and explain its workings. I wanted the visitors to catch a glimpse of this vital research happening behind-the-scenes.

What techniques did you use to document the coral?

Some of the most extraordinary ways of filming involved coral larvae shot through a microscope. The larvae are no bigger than 1mm and I could see the cilia, the hair-like organs that propel them.

  • Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We documented the coral in other ways, such as the use of macro lenses and under blue light (actinic light), which produced a beautiful result. When pointed at corals it makes the symbiotic algae living within their tissue fluoresce.

  • Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We also collaborated with Jamie to make microscope time lapses of coral embryos development, as well as egg-sperm bundle dissociation.

  • Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy:, Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy
    Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy

What is your favourite moment from the film?

To film the juvenile corals I saw coming to life in 2017 as yearlings, but still no bigger than a thumbnail.

It was very moving for me to film them under blue light and see how they acquired their symbiotic algae. I also loved to plunge at the scale of those tiny corals and see the many critters and microorganisms living alongside them.

  • 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

What is the next stage of this project and for you?

I am working with Obsidian Coast on a publication around the project, to be released in 2019. Additionally, I have a few screenings and exhibitions of the project planned in France, the US and Germany. But, what I am really interested in doing is to carrying on filming and progressing the project.

I would like to go to Florida where Project Coral is working in partnership with the Florida Aquarium Centre for Conservation. It would be really exciting to see how Project Coral’s methods are being used to help restore damaged reefs there.


For the Love of Corals is on view at Obsidian Coast, Bradford-on-Avon, until the 26 of January. For the Love of Corals was produced with the support of Obsidian Coast and Fluxus Art Projects. Sonia Levy wishes to thank Jamie Craggs, Project Coral team and the Horniman Museum and Gardens for their in-kind support.                                                               

 

* Irus Braverman (2018), Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink,University of California Press.

About the Art – Shauna Richardson

Crochetdermy® is a technique that you have created yourself. Can you tell us about the development process behind Crochetdermy® - how you came up with it and what it entails?

Crochetdermy® pieces are realistic life-size animals created using a freestyle crochet technique which I began to develop in 2007 when crochet was an endangered craft in this country. 

I came up with the name Crochetdermy® both to better describe what I do and as a way of holding people’s interest. Pre coming up with the name I found that people would drift off when I introduced myself as someone who crocheted animals.

Crochetdermy® is a combination of all sorts of things, I guess it’s a mash-up of me and my life.

There are childhood pastimes such as museum visits and making things, and the adult interest in art theory, particularly in what constitutes art and perhaps more interestingly, what does not. Constant throughout there is rebellion, humour and pure devilment.

I enjoy interventions and playing with preconceptions. The first piece of Crochetdermy® I created was a 7ft brown bear which I entered into the Burnham Market Flower and Produce show in the ‘One Crochet item’ category. The memory still makes me laugh.

What inspired you to create this exhibition?

This exhibition,EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works, was an opportunity to display not only a selection of Crochetdermy® pieces  which demonstrate surface skills, but also with the graphs and charts - a little of what makes me tick. If there was one piece in the Horniman collection that I could cite as a source of inspiration it would be the Mendelism mice.

The exhibition includes bears, lionesses, boars, and monkeys, what drew you to these animals?

The trophies form an intervention within the existing museum display, there is something intriguing about the juxtaposition. The baboon skin is a new piece created specifically for this exhibition. Although an empty skin, the baboon reveals something of the evolution of the works,  demonstrating technique and the creation process.

How long does a piece take to make? Do you use live examples or taxidermy to help you create your work (or both)?

I have made some very large pieces. The biggest - The Lionheart Project was made up of three 25ft lions, this took 18 months to create. More typically something like the baboon skin would take 6-8 weeks.

I use all sorts of sources for anatomy reference but by far the most referred to and most useful is my (live) Jack Russell - The Bean. 

Are there any other mediums that intrigue you? 

Everything intrigues me. I annoy friends, family, and not least myself with wanting to have a go at everything. One lifetime will certainly not be enough.

What impact have Natural History museums and galleries like the Horniman’s had on you and your work?

The impact that Natural History Museums have had on my work I think is plain to see. This side of my character is a bluff old traditionalist, revelling in historic hushed woody rooms full of glass cases. 

 

How do you hope people will react to your pieces? What would you like them to think about?

My job is to make and display the pieces, people will react individually and on their own terms. Within the show there is a comment upon the status of creativity within mainstream education, it is a small gesture but secretly I would be thrilled if this were to be noticed. 

What is next for you? Please let us know if you have any other shows or works coming up.

A large bear is about to be unveiled at the opening of a new MOXY hotel in Downtown New York. Also America bound is a metallic gold wolf skin which is to be exhibited in Excellence in Fibres! at the San Jose Museum until January 2019. Private commissions tend to keep me busy.

About the Art: Bryan Alexander

We spoke with Bryan Alexander, the photographer behind our new exhibition Yamal: The Stream of Life, about working in the Arctic for almost half a century.

What are you looking for when you capture a photograph?

When I am out on the tundra or in native camps, I tend to just react to whatever is going on around me. It’s hard to plan too much ahead as things can be so unpredictable in the Arctic.

If I am working on a specific story I will often make a list of the subjects that I feel I need to photograph in order to tell the story.

What are the difficulties you face working in and photographing the Arctic and how do you overcome them? 

The cold is one obvious difficulty when working in the Arctic, especially during the winter months.

With the right clothing though I find I can keep warm enough even when photographing in temperatures as low as -58° C. When it’s very cold I usually wear a combination of modern cold weather clothing and traditional native clothes.

Finding cameras that work well at these low temperatures can be challenging, particularly nowadays with most cameras being electrically operated. Batteries lose their power much quicker at extremely low sub-zero temperatures, so I always have to carry a lot of extra batteries.

Transport can also be a problem when travelling in the Arctic, where the distances are vast. Reaching isolated camps and villages can be difficult due to the limited transport. One camp I visited in Chukotka, Siberia took me a month to reach.

During my time working in the Arctic, I have travelled by a wide variety of transport from traditional Arctic transport like dog sleds, snowmobiles, reindeer sleds, and kayaks, to modern transport, like all-terrain vehicles, motor boats, helicopters, and planes.

  • Nenets Selfie, (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com
    , (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com

Having worked in the Arctic for 47 years now, what changes have you noticed to the landscape and to the people?

Of course, the whole world has changed considerably over the past 47 years and the Arctic is no exception.

The only place that I have been and noticed a significant change in the landscape is Northwest Greenland. The warming climate has resulted in the icecap and glaciers receding considerably there.

The Politiken Glacier, which I first travelled on by dog sled in 1971, was used regularly as a route to neighbouring villages and hunting grounds by the local Inuit during the winter months. Now it is impassable by dog sled because of the receding ice and the deep crevasses that have opened up.

To me, the most striking change to affect the Arctic’s native peoples has been the steady decline in their traditional culture. There have been positive changes too, better transport, schools, healthcare etc. I feel privileged to have been able to document this period of change in the life of some of the Arctic indigenous peoples.

What is your fondest memory of working in the Arctic? Or your most notable incident?

I have many fond memories of working in the Arctic, certainly too many to mention here. I think that the most memorable incident occurred on my second trip to North Greenland.

During the winter, I went walrus hunting with three Inuit hunters from the village of Siorapaluk. We travelled by dog sled and were about 30km out on the frozen sea when the ice broke up around us.

For three days we drifted out to sea on a small ice floe, before being blown back towards the Greenland coast during a severe storm. On our fourth day adrift, the local villagers realised it was likely that we were in trouble and alerted the authorities.

Once the storm had subsided a search for us began. Two helicopters searched for us for over five hours and the pilots were on the point of abandoning their search when one of them spotted us on the ice.

Fortunately, there was a happy ending for all concerned in this rather scary incident and a few days later, we all headed out onto the frozen sea to hunt walrus again.

What is your relationship with the Nenets? How did you gain access to their communities and lives?

I first visited the Yamal in 1993 on an assignment for an American magazine. Travelling in isolated areas of Russia at that time was difficult, so I was fortunate when I was offered a ride in a helicopter to visit a remote Nenets reindeer herders’ camp.

When the helicopter landed in a forest clearing, I was amazed to see how traditional the Nenets herders were. They were living in reindeer skin tents and everyone at the camp was dressed from head to foot in traditional reindeer skin clothes.

Sergei Serotetto, the head of the group of herders, invited me to have a meal in his family’s tent. We all got on very well and I ended up asking if I could stay with them. There was a problem in that I had lost my bag containing my cold weather clothing. Sergei and his family quickly solved that problem by finding me a reindeer skin parka and long boots to wear.

I ended up staying over a month with them as they travelled from the forest north across the River Ob and then onto tundra on their 1000km spring migration. The longer I spent with these herders, the more interested I became in Nenets culture and the problems the people faced.

After I returned to the UK, I managed to persuade the magazine’s editor to send me back to the Yamal again at the end of the summer, to re-join Sergey and his family as they began their journey south back to their winter pastures.

Since my two visits there in 1993, I have returned to the Yamal on a number of occasions to document life in different camps and communities. I have photographed, not only Nenets, but also different cultures like the Khanty, Komi and Selkup, who also live in the Yamal.

  • Young girl with goose, (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com
    , (c) Bryan Alexander / Arcticphoto.com

What was it like returning to the Nenets over the years? What surprised you the most about how the community has changed or hasn’t?

Although I have visited the Yamal region many times since 1993, it was only in 2017 that I re-visited Sergey and his family. They were at their winter pastures and it was wonderful to be with them again. It was just like visiting old friends anywhere.

At first glance, there didn’t appear to have been much change. Sergey and his family were still living in the same reindeer skin tent and his wife Galya still made reindeer-skin clothes for the family.

However, I noticed that there had been no snowmobiles in the group back in 1993, everyone travelled by reindeer sled. Nowadays every herder drives his own snowmobile.

In 1993, there had been no electricity at the camp, candles and kerosene lamps were the only light source. Now every tent had a small portable generator, bringing not just light but enough power for laptop computers and TV. Children can watch cartoons before going to sleep, and later in the evening after they have finished their work the adults can watch movies.

In 1993, gas development in the Yamal Peninsula was just beginning. I thought that within ten years there would be no more reindeer herding on the Yamal Peninsula but I have been proved wrong. Although the reindeer herders have lost a considerable amount of their pastures to the gas industry there are now many more reindeer in the Yamal than there were in 1993.

What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?

I would like to think that people will take away an insight into Nenets culture and that the exhibition may even inspire some of them to visit the Yamal see the region for themselves. 

What do you have coming up next?

At the beginning of September 2018, I will be in Moscow for the opening of my exhibition, “The Arctic Circle of Life” at the State Museum of Oriental Art. After that, I plan to travel to Siberia’s Gydan Peninsula and photograph there for about a month.

The Mantle of Animism

Marcelo Camus from the Arts Team at St Christopher’s Hospice tells us about a project initiated through the Horniman’s new art programme The Studio, which was performed at one of our summer Big Wednesdays.  

Her mantles are made from the finest materials, including gold threads, and her mantle covers all of her body apart from her face and hands...her devotees can touch her mantle, leave prayer notes beneath her feet or place their head on the back of her mantle and ask for a miracle. This is the custom of the shrine... The Handbook of Contemporary Animism by Graham Harvey

What inspired the project?

The Horniman’s new co-curated area The Studio with a programme and commissioned exhibition have offered opportunities for community groups to create their own project for visitors for the family summer programme.

  • The Mantle of Animism, Planning the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice
    Planning the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice

Patients and carers visited the Horniman with St Christopher’s Arts Team to see the collections and to understand ideas of ethnographic curating and collecting. Inspired by the theme of Animism in nature, introduced by The Studio Collective and artist Serena Korda, but looking at it form a perspective of healing and medicine, two topics very close to the hearts of those in end of life care.

Inspired by this visit to the Horniman patients began working on a large-scale magical mantle and other inspired animals and objects. Made of a myriad of hand-felted imagery - the hyde of a large human-animal mask.

The Mantle has been worked on intensively and majestically performed at the Hospice as part of our annual summer exhibition.

What processes were involved in making the Mantle

We ran groups every day of the week and brought the animism concepts into all of them. On Mondays the community choir, made up of 80 members, created a song for the performance.

  • The Mantle of Animism, People making the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice
    People making the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice

On Tuesdays our Open Access Art Group explored dry felting to create a large surface fabric, while on Wednesdays, the group designed masks made into fling bird like puppets.

Thursdays and Fridays we continued to work with the mantle through dry and wet felting techniques.

We also invited school groups to come to work with the patients on the theme and to contribute to the project. This enables young people to visit the Hospice and dispel fear, taboos and stigma around death and dying.

Eventually after tremendous effort we created a magnificent magical beast!

Seeing the Mantle take shape and progress week after week has been so exciting. The stories, conversation and imagination that take place in sessions from each person is powerful. We hope this was communicated to audiences at the Big Wednesday event at the Hormiman.

  • The Mantle of Animism, The Mantle of Animism during a performance, St Christopher's Hospice
    The Mantle of Animism during a performance, St Christopher's Hospice

Tell us about St Christopher’s Hospice

The Hospice have been building their partnership with the Horniman over the last two years, and have a dedicated team of arts therapists and artists who run workshops for patients, families, carers and community members.

As neighbours in Sydenham, we think it is important to establish a working partnership with the Horniman. The many collections available right next to us, from anthropological funerary and ritual items through to musical instruments, all play a role in the importance or moment of death in our lives.

No one goes untouched by this, yet our tools to deal with it are underdeveloped and unspoken.

The Arts Team at St Christopher’s places this at centre stage, creating artworks in response to what people are thinking and feeling at the end of their lives. What better place to showcase this powerful message that a Museum dedicated to the artefacts we leave behind?

Tell us about yourself

For St Christopher’s I have helped lead on many large-scale collaborative projects both in and out of the Hospice.

My own artistic practice sits within what is termed Social Art Practice. I have been commissioned by organisations to create live immersive events, installations, social interventions and outdoor arts with communities and the public.

I contribute this experience to the Arts Team at the Hospice to consider how we can enable the patients and give them agency to create powerful social gestures. The focus of my work is about collaboration, co-authorship and positive group dynamics.

See The Lore of the Land exhibition from 20 October in The Studio.

World Gallery: Tattooed Memory

Temsuyanger Longkumer speaks to us about "Tattooed Memory", his incredible artwork that features in our new World Gallery in the Nagaland Encounter. 

Can you talk us through what 'Tattooed Memory' means to you?

Tattooed Memory is a memoir of growing up in a tribal community with a dual ethnicity.

My parents were from the Ao tribe in Nagaland. The Ao’s were among the first tribes in Nagaland to receive western education, which came along with Christianity.

After embracing Christianity my parents went on a missionary journey to the Konyak region, one of the most remote areas in Nagaland where they eventually settled and raised their family. My siblings and I were born and raised in the Konyak way of life, but we were also taught the ancestral customs of the Ao tribe through songs and stories.

The sculpture is a body cast I’ve made of myself. It displays a Konyak tribe’s facial tattoo and an Ao tribe’s Tsungkotepsü shawl. The tattoo and the shawl are both highly respected symbols of their respective tribes and something only great warriors and highly accomplished citizens are entitled to wear. When I was young I greatly admired the visuals and what they stood for and dreamt of one day achieving the same.

The sculpture also includes the landscapes I would explore as a child and a watchtower from where I would watch the world go by as part of the head. A memory-laden river takes the form of eyelashes which I have made from my own hair. They work their own down to meet the roots where it all began.

What do you find important to your creative process?

I find interactions of all kinds central to my creative process. Even the smallest conversation on a seemingly random issue can sometimes spark brilliant ideas. 

What mediums do you enjoy working in at the moment?

Currently, I’m enjoying working on a series which uses a multitude of mediums - painting, printmaking, and Claymation.

This group of works involves over-arching ideas relating to the human body as a microcosm of events in the universe. I am exploring the relationship between the microscopic world - the politics and diplomacy between neighbouring cells, the battles waged, fought, spread, repelled - to that of the external world outside of the skin.

What are the difficulties or challenges you encounter when creating artwork like this?

Apart from the technical difficulty of composing the varied materials into a coherent body, the main challenge in creating ‘Tattooed memory’ has been in finding a balance between an artistic interpretation and the darker side of the subject sometimes involved.

The practice of headhunting contributed largely to the exclusive rights to own the facial tattoo and the tsungkotepsü shawl, not to mention the influence it had on the vast array of artistic expressions in the forms of dance, songs, sculptures and architectural designs.

The new World Gallery has as a strapline, ‘what it means to be human’. What does being human mean to you?

Being human, to me, is to live and partake in life with empathy, to the best of one's ability, and the fact that we ask ourselves "what it means to be human" is what makes us human.

What is one thing you believe we all share as humans?

Possibility.

About the Art: Mark Thomas

As our blog series highlighting the work of photographers featured in the British Wildlife Photography Awards comes to a close, Mark Thomas tells us why diving with seals can create some unforgettable moments.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

The Farne Islands have one of the largest populations of grey seals in the UK with hundreds of pups born each autumn. Diving with these beautiful, gentle creatures is one of the highlights of UK diving. The pups will sometimes approach divers, nibbling on fins, mask straps, and camera gear. Diving with seals can be hit and miss - on occasions the seals keep their distance and watch the strange, cumbersome, bubble-blowing creatures from afar. When you encounter a particularly inquisitive pup, however, the experience is unforgettable and results can be spectacular.

  • OpenWide, 'Open Wide' by Mark Thomas which features in the 'Behaviour' category at this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Mark Thomas
    'Open Wide' by Mark Thomas which features in the 'Behaviour' category at this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Mark Thomas

How did you go about getting that shot?

I took this photo on a dive club trip to the Farne Islands in May 2017. The pup was one of a trio who joined us in a shallow bay - the other two kept their distance and can be seen in the background. This individual was especially bold, swimming alongside and mouthing the camera housing - perhaps seeing its reflection in the dome port.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I was using a Nikon D3 with a 15mm fisheye lens, in a Sea & Sea underwater housing, with twin strobes. I use Photoshop to process the RAW images.

  • Grey_seal_pup_FarneIslands, Mark Thomas
    , Mark Thomas

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

The bulk of my diving is around UK and Ireland - especially Connemara in the west of Ireland, the west coast of Scotland, and North Wales. I have dived further afield, including around the Galapagos Islands, Revillagigado Islands, and Sulawesi Islands, but the thought of lugging expensive, heavy kit on long-haul flights puts me off.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Diving in the UK and Ireland is often quite challenging - bad weather, tides, and poor visibility together with cold water add to the difficulties for the underwater photographer. Despite this, it is well worth the effort - with wonderful underwater scenery, wrecks and a rich diversity of colourful and strange marine life. Non-divers are constantly amazed at what can be found a few metres beneath our seas and it is a pleasure to be able to showcase the sights we see underwater. 

  • Corkwing-wrasse_Connemara, Mark Thomas
    , Mark Thomas

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

Photography has been a hobby since my teenage years, when a summer job enabled me to buy my first camera - the Pentax ME Super. Rugby was my passion for over 30 years but once the knees gave out I decided to take up a long-standing ambition to dive and in 1998 I joined the local dive club in Northwich - Hartford SAC. Several talented photographers in the club encouraged my interest in underwater photography and in 2002 I bought a secondhand Nikon F90 film camera and housing before joining the digital revolution a few years later. 

  • Lumpsucker_MenaiStraits, Mark Thomas
    , Mark Thomas

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Underwater photographers should be comfortable in their diving, with good buoyancy control and a healthy regard for the underwater environment.

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

In the winter months, diving is usually restricted to freshwater quarries and rivers, and recently Liverpool docks. These dives are useful for keeping skill levels up and practising techniques. Again, people are surprised at what can be found in these underwater environments. Next year there are plans to dive in  Donegal and Connemara in Ireland, the Scottish lochs, and the Farne Islands.

  • mauve_stinger_Connemara, Mark Thomas
    , Mark Thomas

About the Art: Phillip Price

As part of our ongoing blog series on the work of photographers featured in our exhibition of the British Wildlife Photography Awards, Phillip Price tells us about how he hopes his photography work will make the case for a wilder Scotland.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I am a photographer for Scotland: The Big Picture and beavers are one of our key species to highlight the benefits of having a wilder Scotland. As a result I spend a long time with this animal trying to showcase the huge benefits they can have to our ecology and society. People perceive bracken as a nuisance, to find out that beavers eat it, means there is another wonderful reason to make space for beavers in our landscape.

  • Beaver Bracken Eater, 'Beaver Bracken Eater' which appears in the 'Behaviour' category in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Phillip Price
    'Beaver Bracken Eater' which appears in the 'Behaviour' category in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Phillip Price

How did you go about getting that shot?

I was running one of my Beaver photography workshops when I saw an island float down from the far end of the loch. It was luminous green and was moving quicker than the current, eventually, the penny dropped that the floating island was in fact a beaver carrying an enormous mouthful of bracken. The client and I then ran to a safe position at the loch's edge in line with where it was heading, got down to eye level to the water and waited. The Beaver eventually swam past enabling a handful of shots to be taken with this being the best. We were both elated and knackered as beavers swim much quicker than they look capable of.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

The evening workshop was around four hours and this happened right at the end, but I have been waiting to get a shot like this for Scotland: The Big Picture for two years so a fair amount of time in the field.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

Canon 6d and 500mm f4 lens, Adobe Lightroom to process raw file

  • Phillip Price 2, Phillip Price
    , Phillip Price

What are your favourite scenes, species, or motivations behind your photographs?

All the motivation now is to see Scotlands' wildlife and ecology improve, it is the only reason I do what I do. Through the project Scotland: The Big Picture we aim to use our images to argue the case for a much wilder and richer use of our landscape. To do away with unhealthy mono-cultures and towards a much richer and diverse spread of species and habitats. As a result, my favourite locations and animals are linked to this ideal, sea eagles soaring over a great coastal oak forest and Otters swimming below the limbs of an ancient temperate rainforest. I tend to run all my workshops in these mind-blowing locations and hope to help create more.

  • Phillip Price 6, Phillip Price
    , Phillip Price

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

The huge damage caused to and disregard of the natural world by our decision makers and some businesses, this is by far the biggest challenge to taking great nature shots in the UK.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

How exciting and amazing the natural world is and how much fun it can be and hence we need more of it.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

12 years ago. I started in a studio photographing people then quickly moved into wildlife 11 years ago, which is when I started my guiding and photography workshop business Loch Visions.

  • Phillip Price 5, Phillip Price
    , Phillip Price

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Local is the key. Start with a project of spiders in your garden or squirrels at the park. Understand your subject, spend time and you will reap the rewards.

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

Sea Eagles for Scotland: The Big Picture is my main freelance job at the moment. My brief is to showcase the huge benefits these animals are bringing to rural communities and also show the solutions to some of the perceived difficulties.
I am also in the middle of setting up a wildlife photography 'park' idea for all my workshops, set in temperate rainforest on the west coast of Scotland which is very exciting

  • Phillip Price 3, Phillip Price
    , Phillip Price

About the Art: Lucien Harris

We spoke to Lucien Harris as part of our blog series looking at the work of photographers featured in our British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition. 

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I was walking through a field in Cornwall and I spotted a dead tree. I noticed there were tiny boreholes all over it and wondered what had made them. After a while, I noticed a tiny wasp land and crawl inside. Luckily, I had my camera with me and I thought I'd wait for it to re-emerge so I could get a clear photo of its face. After a while it did and it just sat looking at me for just enough time to get the shot.

  • Wasp you looking at, 'Wasp You Looking At?' which appears in the 'Hidden Britain' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Lucien Harris
    'Wasp You Looking At?' which appears in the 'Hidden Britain' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Lucien Harris

How did you go about getting that shot?

I didn’t have a tripod so I used twin flashes with diffusers I made in order to light up the scene.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I waited around 20 minutes.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I used a 105mm macro lens with a 1.4 teleconverter and two twin flashes with homemade light diffusers.

What are your favourite scenes, species, or motivations behind your photographs?

I love capturing the unseen as there are so many minibeasts that not many people get the chance to see.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Timing and weather, especially the wind. A slight breeze can turn a good shot into a blurry mess very quickly.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

About the diversity of British wildlife and how we can keep it all safe for future generations.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I've been a photographer for 10 years. I started off shooting photos of skateboarding but when I went travelling I noticed all the amazing wildlife and really wanted to capture it for memories when I got home.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

It doesn’t matter about equipment. Just be patient and concentrate on the composure of the photograph

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I'm working on a calendar of British bugs which involves local illustrators as well.

About the Art: Ross Hoddinott

As part of our ongoing series on the work of photographers featured in our BWPA exhibition, we met Ross Hoddinott who looks for beauty in the less obvious places.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I love springtime and spend as much time as I can exploring the countryside close to my north Cornish home at this time of year looking for close-up subjects. The hedgerows and banks are full of new plant-life during April and May and uncurling ferns look fascinating and beautiful at high magnification. Hart’s-tongue ferns are particularly photogenic and when I noticed these two ferns creating a heart shape when aligned together I couldn’t resist shooting them.

  • 04.41_BOTANICAL_P_609.6_x_406.4_1171709178_HR, 'Hartstongue Heart' appears in the 'Botanical' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Ross Hoddinott
    'Hartstongue Heart' appears in the 'Botanical' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Ross Hoddinott

How did you go about getting that shot?

I used a dedicated macro lens – optimised for close focus – to enable me to capture a frame-filling shot. I opted for a large aperture of f/4.8 to create a shallow zone of focus. A tripod helped me to carefully compose the image and fine-tune my focusing.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I probably spent around 30 minutes fine-tuning the image, experimenting with settings, and perfecting the composition. I had to carefully remove various bits of dead foliage and debris to ensure the fern’s background was clean and attractive. Background choice is always an important consideration.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

My 200mm Nikkor macro lens is a great choice for this type of close-up and a tripod proved essential too. Otherwise, my set-up was relatively simple for this image.

  • Wingtips, 'Wingtips' is the winner of the 'Close to Nature' category in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Ross Hoddinott
    'Wingtips' is the winner of the 'Close to Nature' category in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Ross Hoddinott

What are your favourite scenes, species, or motivations behind your photographs?

I specialise in landscape and close-up photography, with a real passion for insects and wild flowers. Dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies are among my favourite close-up subjects. Highlighting the beauty and form of less obvious or appealing subjects is always a motivation for me.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

The unpredictability of nature and the weather are the most obvious challenges. With the great popularity and accessibility of photography today it is also getting increasingly difficult to produce truly original or innovative work.

  • Banded_Demoiselle-9637, Banded Demoiselle, Ross Hoddinott
    Banded Demoiselle, Ross Hoddinott

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I’d like to help heighten their appreciation and passion for the landscape, nature, and the great outdoors. Hopefully this – in turn – will encourage a connection with nature and conservation.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I’ve been a professional landscape and natural history photographer since my late teens – 20 years now. I began shooting wildlife at the age of 11 and never considered anything else as a profession. I’m fortunate to make my living from something I find so fulfilling and rewarding.

  • RHO_Common_blue_damselfly-2614, Common Blue Damselfly, Ross Hoddinott
    Common Blue Damselfly, Ross Hoddinott

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Get to know your subject intimately – for example, its habitat, diet, and behaviour. Spend time observing and enjoying your subject – a good understanding and passion for your subject is essential if you wish to capture its character or beauty.

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I’ve just finished writing two new books – ‘Masters of Landscape Photography’, published by Ammonite Press and on sale now, and also “Landscape Photography – From Dawn to Dusk’ which is due to be published next Spring – again by Ammonite. It’s been a hectic year – I’m hoping to have more time behind a camera in 2018.

  • Wood_Anemone-6370, Wood Anemone, Ross Hoddinott
    Wood Anemone, Ross Hoddinott

About the Art: Duncan Eames

We spoke to Duncan Eames about his amusing photograph from this year's exhibition of the British Wildlife Photography Awards in which a jackdaw provides a stag with some fashion advice.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I try to document the rut in Richmond Park every year since I’ve started my photography hobby– I’ve only missed one due to a broken camera (I broke it while setting up for the rut three weeks after I’d purchased it). Last year’s self-imposed rut assignment was deer with anything on their heads be it flora or fauna.

My wife and I were watching this particular stag having a good thrash while sheltering from the rain. He eventually seemed satisfied with his efforts and settled for what you see in the photo which wasn’t as impressive as most of the others around that day. Soon after a Jackdaw flew in and landed on his back. Although I did notice that it was a little special, at the time I didn’t spot the apparent eye contact between the two until much later. I like to think the Jackdaw was giving the stag some fashion advice.

  • What do You Mean "it Does't Suit Me?", 'What do You Mean "it Does't Suit Me?"' which features in the 'Behaviour' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Duncan Eames
    'What do You Mean "it Does't Suit Me?"' which features in the 'Behaviour' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Duncan Eames

How did you go about getting that shot?

I wish I could say I was waiting patiently for hours and there was meticulous planning beforehand but it wasn’t anything like that. I just happened to be sheltering from the worst of the rain while trying to protect the camera with a rain cover on the way to having a much-needed coffee. It just so happened that this stag was thrashing about in the grass between resting and a bit of bolving (roaring) - probably part of the reason for choosing the tree for cover. I think we were just about to move on, so I’m glad we actually stayed a little longer.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

Not long at all. From the moment we had sheltered to the shot probably about 10-15 minutes.

  • Defiant Roar, This is one of my best-known photos. It taken in October 2013 and used in the BBC Wildlife magazine in their 50th-anniversary edition, and their How to Photograph Wildlife special.  , Duncan Eames
    This is one of my best-known photos. It taken in October 2013 and used in the BBC Wildlife magazine in their 50th-anniversary edition, and their How to Photograph Wildlife special. , Duncan Eames

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I used a Nikon D810 with a 500mm f4 lens on a Gitzo Tripod with a lensmaster gimbal head. I actually had the wrong white balance set as I was experimenting with a manual setting that worked before the cloud and rain came in. This was corrected in Lightroom along with cropping (the original was in portrait orientation) and sharpening.

I had the aperture set to f/5.6, in hindsight I probably would have set the aperture to f/8 or more but I am really pleased with how this came out.

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

I wouldn’t say I have any favourite species or scenes as such. Given most of my well known work are Red Deer photos; I’d have to say one of my favourites has to be the rut in Richmond Park. The sounds, smells and the sight of the deer and the park keep drawing me back.

One of my main motivations for wildlife photography is that I find it is a great way to relieve stress. I couldn’t just watch wildlife all the time, so the camera comes too.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

One is Time. Currently, I’m lucky to get out once a month as real life takes over. So any photo opportunities other than small walks that have been tagged on the end or before shopping trips have been few and far between. I haven’t had much chance to get around some of the better wildlife sites around town for a while either. Sometimes, because I haven’t been consistent with my trips I forget about camera set up or technique (technical and field craft) so it can take me a while to get back into the swing of things. Likewise, my time for processing the photos can be limited. I usually have a couple of hours to process the images. I’m still trying to work out a way to process that works for me.

I currently don’t drive so getting to certain places is harder. I try to turn this into a positive and concentrate on the more accessible places and the wildlife around me.

  • Fieldfare, This Fieldfare photo was one of the first photos I felt that I got right with my first DSLR and long zoom lens. (Nikon D80 and Sigma 150-500mm). Taken in the first big snow of 2010, I took a snow day off from work. I still remember phoning in while up to my knees in snow while on my local patch. , Duncan Eames
    This Fieldfare photo was one of the first photos I felt that I got right with my first DSLR and long zoom lens. (Nikon D80 and Sigma 150-500mm). Taken in the first big snow of 2010, I took a snow day off from work. I still remember phoning in while up to my knees in snow while on my local patch. , Duncan Eames

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

To be honest I’ve not really thought about this, other than that I hope they enjoy what I have to show. As I have mentioned in the previous question, I currently try to document what is around me. A lot of the wildlife around us is taken for granted so I hope that people also find the native nature as interesting as I do.

With regards to the photo in the exhibition, I hope the interaction between the Red Deer and the Jackdaw raises a smile.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I started with wildlife photography in about 2009 when I purchased a telephoto zoom lens a few years after I got my first DSLR. I blame my wife and the Polish countryside around where she grew up as a more recent catalyst as I wanted to document what I found around there.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

When it comes to equipment you do not need to spend lots of money. Just because you don’t have the big, heavy, shiny kit doesn’t mean you won’t take good photographs. Choose the right camera make that suits you. It’s no good if you don’t like how it’s balanced or how the controls are laid out. If you can, spend the money on the lenses over the camera body. Unless you have more cash than you know what to do with you are likely to be sticking with one make. If you are also considering stabilisation, ensure that you pick the best tripod your budget will allow. This should be as high as lenses on your list of equipment. Don’t make the same mistake I did or you’ll end up buying another tripod later.

Just get out there and take photos. Practice will mean your photos get better regardless of what you’re trying to achieve be it something creative or just a decent record shot.

There are plenty of places to practice be it urban, coastal, or countryside. For animals and birds, an ideal place to start is in a local park as they are likely to be used to people. I have found that ducks, other waterfowl, and garden birds are very good to start with. Don’t just rush in or get too close. If you can get level with or lower than your subject it can give a better shot. Sometimes sit back and watch the behaviour you can learn a lot and apply it to the photography.

Experiment with your technique, try and emulate others and put your own spin on it. Share your photos and get feedback, post them online or join a camera club. Learn from your mistakes and from others.

  • hedgehog, This is one of the five hedgehogs that visited my garden over the summer. I was laying in wait for it to snuffle its way through the plants at the back of the garden. It heard the camera going and paused for a while (it stayed like this for the time I took the photos). I stopped after five minutes and walked away. To be honest this was the bravest of all the five hedgehogs and after this would walk around me and eat right next to me if there was hedgehog food out for the â which there often was.  It never seemed to mind the camera and often appeared to pose for me. , Duncan Eames
    This is one of the five hedgehogs that visited my garden over the summer. I was laying in wait for it to snuffle its way through the plants at the back of the garden. It heard the camera going and paused for a while (it stayed like this for the time I took the photos). I stopped after five minutes and walked away. To be honest this was the bravest of all the five hedgehogs and after this would walk around me and eat right next to me if there was hedgehog food out for the â which there often was. It never seemed to mind the camera and often appeared to pose for me. , Duncan Eames

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I don’t tend to plan photo projects too much as real life gets in the way. It's not that I don’t have ideas, it’s more whether I get the opportunity to carry them out. At some point, I think I may have to change my outlook on taking photos and concentrate more on getting the subject and its habitat rather than the close-up portrait.

Over the last few years, I have occasionally thought about the Wagtail roosts around my town, it might be a good opportunity to have a go with them. One site and probably the best roost around the town happens to be on private land so I’ll have to ask permission. As the area is very busy and usually with far too many people I’m not sure they will allow me.

Next year I hope that I can document the hedgehogs visiting the garden. I had five this year and they seemed to tolerate me being close. Sadly none of them have stayed despite my best efforts to make them feel at home with food, shelter and a section of my garden that is less attended to than the rest. If they do come back, I may even be allowed a trail camera or two to help me document them. If I get the right camera there could be live streaming.

I have repeatedly promised to go and photograph the Peregrines at Charing Cross Hospital in London when I’m in the area and I have always been carried away with other things and then not going. If I mention this here I have no excuse but to visit now.

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