Keen photographers and animal enthusiasts alike will probably be firm followers of the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. The annual competition showcases breathtaking and heartbreaking images of the natural world by photographers from across the planet, and 2020 has proven – perhaps unsurprisingly – to be one of the most poignant yet.
You could throw a dart just about anywhere on the timeline of 2020 and land on bad news, but some of the most dramatic images emerged from the devastating wildfires in Australia, which saw in what would be a harrowing new year. It seems those who voted in the 2020 People’s Choice Award weren’t ones to shy away from tricky subjects, as they hailed children’s television personality and wildlife photographer Robert Irwin (yes, those Irwins) as the winner for his photo of the crisis.
The son of zookeeper and TV legend Steve Irwin strayed away from what surely must be the family’s mascot genus, Crocodilia, to capture a searing image of Australia’s bushfires using drone photography. With countless amounts of wildlife – estimated to be over a billion animals – lost in the blazes that transformed the landscape, the image carries a heavy message. Simply entitled “Bushfire,” the haunting shot frames a clear 50:50 of luscious green trees against the blackened remains they would soon become.
Irwin spotted the opportunity as smoke billowed from the horizon of the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Cape York, Queensland: a protected stretch of land that supports over 30 ecosystems, some containing endangered species.
“I am incredibly excited to win the Wildlife Photographer of The Year People’s Choice Award. For me, nature photography is about telling a story to make a difference for the environment and our planet,” said Irwin in a press release about the award. “I feel it is particularly special for this image to be awarded, not only as a profound personal honour but also as a reminder of our effect on the natural world and our responsibility to care for it.”
The PCA received almost 50,000 images for the 2021 competition, which were shortlisted down to just 25 images by the Natural History Museum. Irwin’s will feature alongside four other Highly Commended images from the PCA as part of the exhibition held at the museum, which at the time of writing intends to run until August 2021 – though dates are subject to change owing to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns in the United Kingdom.