Daisies refracted in water droplets attached to a common wasp, an uninterested kayaker walking past a burning house, and a hose crudely fastened to a car were just some of the mesmerising images featured in last night’s edition of the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition.
This was the eighth edition of the nation’s biggest photography event and it was again hosted by NZ Geographic editor James Frankham, who has over the years perfected his casual, off-the-cuff presentation style. He tangoed with technical difficulties, made the audience laugh and, in the process, celebrated the best photography of year.
This year, 3,500 pieces of work were entered across six categories: society and culture, landscape, wildlife, photostory, aerial, and colour. And the event was again hugely popular, with over 25,000 visitors making their way through the exhibition of finalists’ work in Auckland in the weeks leading up to awards night (a further 7,000 also visited the site in Christchurch).
But before any of the photographers were named, the microphone was handed to legend and multiple-award-winning underwater photographer Richie Robinson, who won the full attention of the audience from the moment he started telling his story.
His narrative started with the chemical smell of the photography room and took the audience on a journey through his early days as a press photographer eventually leading to the underwater photography that he now specialises in.
And while he has since moved on from the press side of things, he views it as an integral part of the photographer’s education.
“If photography is the religion, then press photography is the gospel,” he said.
While his speech was truly a celebration of the power of photographs to tell a story in a way that no other medium can, it did end on a more sombre note, with Robinson questioning what happens when those who are charged with telling the stories of endangered species also find themselves endangered.
Endangered photographers may be, but the images on display last night again reiterated that the love for photography as an art form remains as strong as ever in New Zealand.
And nowhere was this better evidenced than in the varied work of Iain McGregor, who last night walked away the New Zealand Photographer of the Year.
Frankham said that McGregor’s photography goes beyond the polished and art directed version of New Zealand that appears in our publicity to challenge us with imagery that’s sometimes confronting and challenges our beliefs and prejudices.
In addition to being declared Photographer of the Year, McGregor also won the photostory category for his poignant coverage of the Canterbury Bushfires.
Credit: Iain McGregor and NZ Geographic. Click here to see more winning photography.
While many of the winners headed to the stage with many years of experience behind them, the Young Photographer of the Year category also showed that the future is in good hands.
The winner in this category was Talman Madsen, whose portfolio of natural photography impressed the judges.
NZ Geographic again ran the People’s Choice award, and Kiwis from across the country embraced the initiative, casting over 30,000 votes in the weeks leading up to the awards night.
Once all the votes were tallied, the clear winner as Murray McCulloch’s almost surreal snapshot of daisies refracting in water droplets on a wasp.
Credit: Murray McCulloch and NZ Geographic. Click here to see more winning photography.
During his speech, Robinson spoke about the difficulty involved in shooting underwater. The deeper you go, the more colours disappear. And with this in mind, it’s even more impressive that the Colour Award this year went to Quentin Bennett’s image of a broad squid.
On the topic of deep, dark places, Shaun Jeffers’ voyage into the Ruakari Cave resulted in a sublime snapshot of glow worms and earned the photographer the Landscape Category award.
Every year, the wildlife category is hotly contested and this year was no different. There was very little separating the top four, which led the judging panel to hand out two highly commended awards in this category (it’s also worth noting that the People’s Choice winner comes from this category).
Due largely to the degree of difficulty involved in catching a fish mid-flight, Crispen Middleton ended up winning this category.
Middleton was abroad on an expedition, so he couldn’t collect his award in person, but this didn’t stop Frankham from putting him on the spot with an awkward interview in front of his peers.
In the middle of the presentation, Frankham toyed with a potential technological disaster by hooking up his mobile to the event audio system and calling Middleton’s satellite phone. Fortunately, everything ran smoothly, and a delighted Middleton expressed elation (once he realised which photograph Frankham was referring to).
The influence of technology also extended beyond Frankham’s on-stage experiments to the entries themselves. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the society and culture category, which was won by Mark Taylor for his brilliantly timed image of women texting at Victoria Street Bistro.
Credit: Mark Taylor and NZ Geographic. Click here to see more winning photography.
Technology also played a role in the aerial category, which was won Richard Sidey for his drone shot of a black pearl far on Manihiki atoll.
Sidey was not present to collect his award, but he had a substitute in the shape of his brother-in-law and Tangible publisher and editorial director Ben Fahy, who accepted the award on his behalf.
Finally, this year also saw a return of the timelapse category, which was won by Hamish Wright’s sublime footage of the sky over the geographic South Pole. On that note, we’ll just leave you with this video.
Full list of winners:
New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016: Iain McGregor
People's Choice winner: Murray McCulloch
Young Photographer of the Year: Talman Madsen
Colour Award winner: Quentin Bennett
Landscape winner: Shaun Jeffers
Landscape runner-up: Tony Whitehead
PhotoStory winner: Iain McGregor
Photo Story runner-up: Lottie Hedley
Wildlife winner: Crispin Middleton
Wildlife runner-up: Jason Hosking
Society & Culture winner: Mark Taylor
Society & Culture runner-up: Doug Sherring
Aerial winner: Richard Sidey
Aerial runner-up: Alastair Jamieson
Timelapse winner: Hamish Wright
Timelapse runner-up: Steven Harrison