This striking image, taken by José Luis Rodriguez, won the 2009 Veolia Environnement Wildlife photographer of the year competition. The subject is an Iberian Wolf (Canis lupus signatus), leaping over a farm gate somewhere in the Spanish countryside. At the time that the prize was announced in October 2009, Rodriguez has this to say about the image:
“I wanted to capture a photo in which you would see a wolf in an act of hunting – or predation – but without blood,” he told BBC News. “I didn’t want a cruel image.”
October 2009 has become January 2010 and Rodriguez has been stripped of the—technically speaking, disqualified—award. From the special statement announcing the disqualification:
The judging panel was reconvened and concluded that it was likely that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for photographic purposes and, as a result, that the image had been entered in breach of Rule 10 of the 2009 Competition.
You can read more about the case against the shot, but the disqualification is an interesting development as it signals that a boundary has been crossed between what is considered wild and what is not. The 2010 rules of this competition state that “only pictures of wild animals and plants and landscapes are eligible. Images of animal models or any other animal being exploited for profit may not be entered.” This, of course, is the ostensible reason for the disqualification. Read, however, how this image was crafted:
Watching the animals as they returned to the same spot to collect food each night, Mr Rodriguez decided on his dream shot.
He eventually captured it using a photographic trap that included a motion sensor and an infrared barrier to operate the camera.
The winning photograph wasn’t a chance moment where human, photographic equipment and wolf all masterfully and fatefully converged. It was, rather, a measured, long-term exercise involving bait to attract the wolves, cameras to record the image and an infrared trap to trigger the shutter. So, was the winning photograph ever an image of “true” wildlife? Or, to put it another way, what does the image loose in impact to learn that in addition to the bait, the camera and the IR trap, a captive wolf known as Ossian was the subject?
Given that there is photography involved, an act that already works in ways to remove the viewer from the subject, that the animal subject should be seen as now falling into the category of “not wild” is fascinating. In fact, these developments speak to a larger question of the truth and authenticity we put in wildlife photography. I’ll be provocative by saying there are no truly “wild” or ” nature untouched” moments that come from an image captured by photographic equipment (read a related previous post on Tusk Cams & Nature Films).