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Animal Crackers

To the victor, the spoils. International exhibit winner Wildlife Photographer of 2016 by Don Gutoski

For 51 years the British Natural History Museum has been holding the prestigious annual international competition - Wildlife Photographer of the Year. After display in London, the winning photographs go on tour, to be shown in Britain and in museums around the world. This year at the Eretz Israel Museum, one of the 35 international locales, the dog days of summer can be escaped to catch the top 100 wildlife photographs from around the globe.

From foxes in Canada to algae in Spain to whales in Norway, this international mix is reason alone to spend an air-conditioned hour or two in the museum. But a lover of Israeli nature will discover another compelling impetus. A parallel wing is devoted to A Picture of Nature #3, Israel's local version of the competition, now in its third year. 

A jackal creeps up on a hoopoe bird in Yarkon Park. Israeli competition: First place, Bird Category. By Irit Drob.
Close-up of a honeybee Bet Yanai National Park. Israeli competition: First place, Ivertebrates Category. By Keren Eisenberger

Works by 55 Israeli photographers, chosen by a professional jury, hang in a light airy environment, beautifully displayed and clearly explained. Fifteen categories capture nature in its drama, emotion, power, beauty and diversity: birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates, botany, landscapes, night life, social life, underwater world, urban nature, conflict between man and nature, wildlife in controlled environments, young photographers, photographic series, and video.

Every photo is a luminous aspect of the world; highlighting a few gives a taste of the show. The magnified honeybee in Beit Yanai looms as large as a prehistoric giant; the indifferent violence of the chameleon devouring a dragonfly in the Hadera forest; exquisite flowers near Beit Shean which bloom but 24 hours; the owl in Kibbutz Hatzor, indistinguishable from the tree trunk in which it sits; the heart-wrenching video of gazelles foraging for food in northeast Jerusalem, hemmed in by barbed wire and highways; curious fox cubs in Ramat Negev mesmerized by a butterfly; the long forked tongue of a coiled viper in the Negev; a splendid multicolored praying mantis like a science fiction creature in Tze'elim; the serenity of train tracks curving through the Jerusalem forest; iridescent squids in Eilat; crows striving to banish an invading griffin vulture on a Haifa rooftop; hundreds of starlings in formation rising above a factory in Ramat Hovav; majestic Sinai Mountains marred by a steel border fence separating Egypt and Israel; ecologically damaging jeep tracks cutting across a Tel Aviv beach; white egrets foraging for garbage in a Jordan Valley landfill; baby hedgehog fed with a dropper in the Ramat Gan Wildlife Hospital; a lone majestic wolf prowling the Golan's snowy Odem Forest. 

Starlings overlooking the Dead Sea. Israeli Competition: Photograph of the Year. By Ilia Shalamaev

The most jolting images may be those of wild animals cohabiting with people in surprising environments: the hoopoe bird being stalked by a golden jackal in the Yarkon Park, and another of a jackal in that park staring implacably at the camera, his presence unnoticed by people striding on an adjacent jogging path.

In a posthumous tribute to the Israeli wildlife journalist, a large screen at the entrance to the Israeli exhibition plays excerpts from documentary nature films by the late Moti Kirschenbaum. It is a fitting homage to Kirschenbaum's contribution to environmental awareness. However, the audio narration is broadcast in a continuous stream at high volume, creating a distraction hard to ignore when viewing the exhibit. 

Feeding a baby hedgehog, Wildlife Hospital, Ramat Gan Second place: Wild animals in controlled environments By Daniella Harel

The museum has issued a high quality catalogue of A Picture of Nature #3, which includes the moving comments of exhibit curator, Galia Gur Zeev:

…The wildlife photographs in this exhibition – landscapes and their varied inhabitants – quench even if only by a fraction, our yearning for the wild, the origin, the unknown, the primordial. Some show us enchanted landscapes where no man has set foot, while others visions of ecological disasters, the profane mark of a man. The photographs of the spectacular nature, as well as the photographs of the wounded and vulnerable nature, call upon us to preserve and protect the treasures it holds.

For all the urban blight and over-development in Israel, this gem of a show demonstrates that with patience and a good eye, the wonders of the animal and plant kingdoms are still at our fingertips. Run, don't walk, to see it.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year and A Picture of Nature #3 are on view at Eretz Israel Museum Tel Aviv until August 31, 2016.

Eretz Israel Museum, 2 Chaim Levanon Street, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 641 5244; www.eretzmuseum.org.il 

 

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