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Posted February 16th by Design Splat in #WW - Writers Wednesday, Lily

Inspiration is in the eye of the beholder

Last week my boyfriend took me to an exhibition that I have wanted to see ever since I was about ten – the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year show at the Natural History Museum in London. When I was younger I just thought the pictures were cute animals and pretty scenery, but as I got older, and my own creativity developed, they became an endless source of inspiration. From the colours and textures, to the photographers’ unique perspectives on the competition’s categories – each picture provided sparks of stimulation that could be translated into any design field – illustration, textile design, fashion, make up artistry, as well as photography itself. One photograph that particularly inspired me to look “outside the box” as it were was the winner of the “Animal Portraits” category. As opposed to your typical face shots that you may expect from a portrait – the winning shot was of a polar bear exploring the camera – its face out of shot – but perfectly highlighting the creature’s curiosity. This different approach to portraiture displayed the character of the animal far better than a conventional shot of its head ever could.

A feature common to all the photographers in the competition, even those in the under 10 category, was their passion. Waiting for up to a few weeks for the perfect shot, chest height in a bog, up close to some of the most vicious animals known to man, or shooting for hours in temperatures which make you yearn for your hot water bottle just reading about them – what all these people had in common was their unwavering passion for their subjects. This passion was conveyed in the images, and made me realise that your heart must be entirely in your project for the results to be truly stunning.

However, this column isn’t going to be about the pictures that were immediately inspiring to me, or the ones that were my favourites. What struck me most about the exhibition, and the thought that has stuck with me ever since I left there, was that I found inspiration in shots that I didn’t find particularly appealing or beautiful. I’m sure you have all heard or even repeated the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – but I prefer the original wording by David Hume: “Beauty in things exists in the mind that contemplates them”. The same could be said of inspiration. Instead of walking past the photographs which I didn’t find the most visually attractive, I would still stop, and contemplate them. For example, the photograph of a lion eating a carcass did not appeal to my senses on first look – as an unabashed girly girl, the blood and flesh made me want to turn away. But then I contemplated the shot further and realised I actually really liked it. Not because I found it beautiful as Hume would have us believe, but because I found it inspiring. The different perspective on a feeding animal, the intense colours, and the contrast of textures between the lion’s fur and the sinewy meat – all of these were missed by my first casual glance when all I saw was gore.

The pictures in the exhibition are undoubtedly stunning – many beautiful, some funny, some provocative – but what they all have in common is their ability to inspire. Even if you are not a photographer (I’m not!) I would encourage you to try to make the trip to see the winning and commended entries of this annual competition. I am positive that you will get something out of the visit. But even if you can’t, next time you see something that may not necessarily appeal to you straight off, stop and have a second look. And then a third. And possibly a fourth. Then you too will discover that inspiration truly does exist in the mind that contemplates it.

'Predatory steps' Eirik Grønningsæter Winner of Animal Portraits

'Turtle in trouble' Jordi Chias Pujol Winner, One Earth Award

'Sweet intimacy' Christian Ziegler Highly Commended, Behaviour Birds

A carcass-eye view' Jürgen Ross Highly Commended, Behaviour Mammals

Love Lily


The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition runs from Friday 22nd October 2010 – Friday 11th March 2011, following which it will travel to 70 cities around the world. It is an annual exhibition though so even if you can’t make this years, it is definitely worth a visit in the future.   xx

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