Some wild comic timing
What are the chances that a polar bear can make you laugh? Or, even better, that a red kangaroo posing like it’s in the middle of kung-fu training will tickle your funny bone?
It might be difficult to wrap your head around the fact that wild animals and creatures can understand the art of comic timing, let alone master it. But this is the central theme of The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards (CWPA), started by UK-based wildlife photographers Tom Sullam and Paul Joynson-Hicks three years ago to create awareness about conservation, albeit with the help of a competition that was “light hearted…and mainly about wildlife doing funny things”.
In their third edition, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards received more than 3,500 entries from over 80 countries—the winners were announced on 13 December.
The rules are simple. The animals should have been shot in the wild; there’s no scope for digital manipulation of the photographs since the CWPA team gets every image verified by digital specialists. It even asks for the original file. Pictures are judged on the basis of technical nous, how amusing the content (photograph) is, and the captions.
“If there is any suggestion that the animal is not in the wild, or has been disturbed purely for the images, then that image will not be accepted. We really want to promote enjoyment of wildlife, rather than any human intervention. This competition is all about celebrating those animals that share the planet with us humans,” says Sullam, the competition director and chair of the judges panel, in an email.
Apart from Sullam and Joynson-Hicks, the jury has a mix of people from different backgrounds: from Will Travers, the chief executive officer of the Born Free Foundation, to the marketing director of the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (Katie Thompson), among others involved in conservation. “We need a good balance between experts and non-experts, and we think we have that,” says Joynson-Hicks.
The encouraging part is that the accolades need not be restricted to one person or photographer. The awards are divided across categories—so there are winners in the underwater category, creatures of the land and air, and an overall winner. There are even multiple winners of commendations.
With repeated instances of man-animal conflict coming to the fore almost every day—not just in India but across the world—the photographs exhibited by the CWPA are a welcome break from the monotonous perception that has surrounded wildlife documentation for some time.
“The goal was a small one—to raise a smile and raise awareness at a relatively low level. The success of the competition has meant that we are now reaching into millions of households with these hilarious images, and, at the same time, raising awareness about the plight of animals. It’s not all about huge results, but much more about letting people know that we can get a lot from wild animals, and we should be conscious of the real risks that all wildlife faces,” Sullam adds.
The competition has grown and the animals are funnier than ever before. As Sullam says: “The standard just continues to rise…as do the laughs.”
All photographs courtesy The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, 2017; captions by the photographers.