After Britain’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year was found to have staged his award-winning image, other photographers are coming out with their own stories of manipulating nature.
The award for British Wildlife Photographer of the Year is in the throws of a very drowsy controversy involving staged imagery, lies, taxidermy, a team of scientists, and the age-old question of authenticity in photography. This past week, the BBC revealed that the award-winning photograph for 2017, of an anteater inspecting a massive termite mound in a Brazilian reserve, was actually a staged picture. The anteater at the center of The Night Raider, say the competition judges, was actually stuffed, fake, a prop. The use of non-living animals, in addition to being supremely creepy, isn’t permitted according to the competition rules, which are overseen by London’s Natural History Museum.
Photographer Marcio Cabral has denied the allegations, stating that witnesses were present in Emas National Park, the site of his photograph. “It would be very unlikely anyone wouldn’t see a stuffed animal being transported and placed carefully in this position,” he told BBC News. And while, he’s right, a stuffed anteater being carted into a Brazilian nature preserve would turn heads, the competition has scientific proof of Cabral’s visual manipulation. The museum enlisted a team of five scientists, including their own taxidermy specialist to authenticate the image, and concluded that the anteater in question was not only a fake, but the very stuffed animal greeting visitors at the park’s entrance. According to the BBC: “The scientists found the markings, the postures, the morphologies and even the positioning of the fur tufts to be just too similar.”
When asked if he had any other shots of his nocturnal anteater, Cabral noted the long exposure required of his nighttime image, by the time he could’ve taken such a photograph, he claims, the anteater had disappeared into the night. Unfortunately, Cabral’s ham-fisted staging has ruined the fun for all photographers participating in the contest. No new images will be accepted to replace the The Night Raider as wildlife photograph of the year, leaving the award fitfully incomplete for 2017. “As the photographers are now known,” the NHM wrote in a statement, “it would be impossible for judges to make an objective choice.”
As the Guardian noted yesterday, wildlife photography isn’t as “natural” as it claims to be. It many ways the visual genre sounds at times like a group of kids torturing animals for fun, except they’re adults vying for top photography awards and international acclaim. “People do quite terrible things to small creatures, like putting them in the freezer [to slow their movement], supergluing them in place or attaching them to wires,” says Clay Bolt, one of the judges for the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. Besides the grim reality for insects who unwilling get cast in these images, the habits of some wildlife photographers can permanently alter animal behavior, according to photograph Laura Kaye, who focuses on avian photography. In 2017, while attempting to photograph the rare great grey owl in Quebec, she discovered that other photographers were luring the bird into their shots with dead mice. “[Photographers] can get great closeup flight shots of the owl coming in and eating a mouse, but you don’t want predatory animals associating humans with food. You end up changing their behavior,” Kaye said. “It might take you a day or a week to get those photos that someone with a cooler of mice can get in five minutes.”