The World Nature Big Photography Exhibition

Sunday was the closing day of the World Nature Big Photography Exhibition (世界の自然 大写真展) at the Tokyo Gekijo near Ikebukuro Station, and I went to see how it was and check out how my one photograph had turned out. There were 290 photographs contributed by 78 people. The poster sheet advertised, “From doctors, physicians, lawyers, accountants, professors and artists to housewives, students and foreigners living in Japan”. I am glad to see my status was included. I share it with one of the other contributors who is Korean.

While there were many photos to look at, my overall conclusion was that this exhibition could have been held with the top ¼ best photographs only and it would have been much more successful. There was a lot of filler, a lot of repeats, and a lot of photos that were either too poor to be worthy of being there or didn’t fit the theme of world nature. Here are some of the disappointments.

A photo of a couple silhouetted at sunset, walking down a street with a tram rail and lamp posts at either side. Is this nature?

A photo of an old man handing out grass blades to kids in a park. The photo not only had no real compositional thought and came off looking like a family album snap snot, but the background had houses and telephone wires and the exposure date was across the image!

A photo of an elderly couple hiking in nice morning light past a manicured lawn. Not nature!

A grove of birch trees with a golf course visible in the background as well as a rest house with a vending machine advertising Pocari Sweat. Nature?

A detail of two roof tops. Since when is a view of house roofs a nature photo? Another house view also was there but these houses had bamboo straw roofs so maybe that was acceptable?

A caged cassowary. Wild animals in cages are not accepted as nature photos by most respectable organizations.

A few low quality digital prints with red and green pixel patches clearly visible and a few blurred telephoto shots with heavy pixels or grain. Were these essential to the exhibition?

Other disappointments included two very near identical photos of a lioness attempting to pick up her cub. One photo was more tightly cropped than the other but essentially we were looking at the same moment. Both photographers had been on the same safari tour and stood side-by-side shooting the same scene. Shouldn’t the judges have noticed this and culled one? There were about two-dozen cheetah-with-cubs photographs. More variety, please! There were about 8 Matterhorn photographs but only two or three were actually really good; the others were just amateur grab shots. One photograph of an Alpine view had the horizon centred and a red sign and metal rail off to one side. Another vacation snapshot? “I’ll just grab a shot of this and then go inside and finish my latte.” Those things plus several more made for a lot of disappointment. This was clearly a show organized by and representing amateurs.

I was not impressed with the representation of world nature either. Around 70% of the images were wild animals in Kenya or Tanzania. The remaining 30% included mostly South American mountains; European Alps; a few from the Himalayas and Karakoram, and Canadian Rockies; two from Alaska; a few from Antarctica; my one shot from China; and a few other odd locations. Of course there were photos from Japan but not as many as I had expected. Noticeably absent were photos from the U.S. (other than Alaska), from other locations in Africa, from most of Asia, from Oceania (except one from Vanuatu), and from the rest of Europe outside the Alps except for a pastoral scene in what looked like Tuscany but again was not a nature shot. This was not really a fair representation of world nature. I also had to question the arrangement of the photos as a polar bear photo was stuck in between two long walls of all African animals, and one wall had African wildlife, two shots of penguins, a butterfly, a group of Masai people and two mountain photos.

I didn’t mind the aboriginal people photos because they showed people wearing only things they had made from grass and natural materials. Nothing refined – like plastic, metal or glass – was in those photos and the people sat near straw huts without any garbage around them. As human beings are products of nature I did not object to seeing people living naturally as our ancient ancestors did.

My photograph turned out very nice and professional, I thought, but it was displayed on the second last wall among most of the non-world nature photographs, including some very average images that did fit the theme. I guess they had to stuff that foreigner living in Japan somewhere. I didn’t notice where my Korean counterpart had ended up.

One final complaint: a mountain photographer had pinned a sheet of paper on the wall with additional information about some of the mountains in the photos and he had a photo of Mt. Robson with the elevation left blank – (_____ m). So, I found him and told him that Mt. Robson is 3,954 metres.

“Oh, no, I think it’s higher than that,” he replied. “Around 6,000 metres.”

“It’s 3,954 metres,” I stated confidently. I have had the elevation memorized since I was 15 years old.

“No, it’s higher,” he reiterated. A man standing next to him agreed, saying Robson was over 6,000 metres.

“There’s only one mountain in North America over 6,000 metres and that’s McKinley,” I said.

“And then there’s one nearby that’s almost as high…” said the photographer.

“That’s Mt. Logan. It’s the highest mountain in Canada, about 5,900 and some metres.”

“Right, and Mt. Robson is the next highest,” insisted the stubborn old photographer. “Over 5,000 metres.”

“Mt. Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. In the Saint Elias mountains in the Yukon we have many mountains over 4,000 metres…” I knew what I was talking about. I wanted him to understand that.

“Yes, and Mt. Robson is higher.” The old guy was not letting up.

“Mt. Robson is 3,954 metres.” Why would I come up to find him just to tell him misleading information?

“I really think it’s much higher,” he said again. I gave up. He could look it up for himself. Then he gave me some postcards of his photos. I didn’t want to show my frustration with this geezer so I just told him that I enjoyed mountain photography the most and he had a number of beautiful images. I told him that when I had visited some of the same locations I had not been so fortunate with the weather. We parted with smiles and thank yous but for the rest of the day it bugged me that he would not accept that I knew the height of Mt. Robson. I want to email him with a list of Canada’s top 100 highest peaks just so he can see that Robson is actually quite a way down the list.

Well, anyway, back to my opinion of the exhibition. I would give this one two stars out of five and I feel that the only place my photo had there was to stand out above the crap that was hung on the same wall. Hopefully people will remember the foreigner with the name in katakana as having a photograph that better suited the theme and was of a higher skill level than many of the other images. I have to wonder if this wasn’t just a waste of time. But I did meet some nice people who seemed excited to meet me as I was the only foreigner with a name in katakana who had joined the show.

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