Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Landscape Photographer of the Year 2011

The Landscape POTY exhibition is making its annual visit to the National Theatre on London's South Bank but if you go you might be forgiven for thinking you'd wandered into the wrong room. Landscape photos there are a-plenty, but - what's this? A picture of an armchair in a room in a dilapidated house? A man on a bench in front of a stone wall? A close-up shot of the leaves of a Japanese Acer tree, and another fairly close-up shot of some seagulls? Sorry, I thought you said 'landscape'...

Last year I was entranced by the quality of the entries. There is still a lot of magic in this year's crop but there is also an increasing number of shots being accepted as 'landscapes' that are quite obviously nothing of the kind. Some are perhaps borderline: a picture of two people on a beach with a beach mat; two photos where the camera is aimed up at treetops, and several where it is aimed up at more or less well-known buildings; even the kayaker standing inside a cave might be considered very loosely as a landscape shot.

But the tops of electricity pylons in a photo that shows absolutely no land, taken by a photographer who claims that the picture is "almost more than a 
landscape"...??? Well, you can leave out the words "more than". And as for the two different close-ups of frozen bubbles in pond water, one of which was taken underwater in a special camera housing, well, I'm really struggling here. Is the problem that there is only one landscape photographer on the judging panel? Almost certainly not as other judges include the editor of Amateur Photographer magazine, a picture editor for the Sunday Times, and representatives of AA Publishing and Epson UK. So more than half of the judges should be able to recognise a landscape photo. Is the problem that there weren't enough entries that were true landscapes? At a time when everyone and his dog has a camera of some sort, I doubt it.

Maybe it's just me. Anyway...

Once again the exhibition is slightly marred by bad lighting. Where photos are arranged in two rows, the ones in the top row are impossible to see without the harsh, 
blown-out reflection of the light that's pointing directly at them. And you find yourself chasing your own shadow off of the bottom row. This has been a problem with exhibitions at the NT and also at the.gallery@oxo ever since I started visiting both about five years ago. Maybe they should get a photographer to arrange the lighting. Just a thought.

But don't let any of this put you off. The majority of the pictures at the NT _are_ of landscapes and the winning photo, Robert Fulton's Winter Field, Sterlingshire, 
Scotland, most definitely is a landscape, and a deserved winner. The quality of all of the entries is excellent, you can work around the light, and I think you'll find it worth a visit. One other positive note is that the tech-savvy will enjoy reading the details of the camera and lens used, the exposure information, and even the post-processing used on the photos.

Now, I must dig out that picture of my little finger to enter into next year's competition. It should be OK, I was standing in a landscape when I took it...

Charlie Waite at the NT
Whether you're a photographer or not, if you're interested in landscapes, you might want to go to the NT bookshop for a talk by Charlie Waite about his approach to landscape photography. Dates are Tue 13th December, Wed 14th December, Mon 23rd January, Tue 24th January, all start at 7.45pm and tickets cost £5.

Landscape Photographer of the Year
National Theatre (Lyttleton Exhibition Space
Until 28th January 2012, Free
Monday - Saturday from 9.30am - 11pm and Sunday 11 Dec and 1 Jan from 12pm - 5.30pm.

Charlie Waite talk
National Theatre Bookshop @ 7.45pm
Tue 13 & Wed 14 December, Mon 23 & Tue 24 January, cost £5

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