The Withdrawn Wolf

Today the judges of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition decided to strip the 2009 winner – Jose Luis Rodriguez – of his title. This followed doubts as to the wolf’s wildness. The panel reached the conclusion that these doubts are strong enough to render his entry in the competition invalid – in short, they think the wolf had a lucrative modelling contract.

Regardless of whether this is true or not there are other issues with the picture. My own objections to Rodriguez as the winner began with the short text in the accompanying portfolio booklet. The first sentence reads: “When José Luis realized he had got the shot of his dreams – one that he had even sketched on paper – he couldn’t quite believe it.”

Looking at the picture after reading that sentence the sense of staging is plain. If he had sketched it before taking it how could it have been anything other than consciously planned? Rodriguez had created some sort of framework and placed the wolf within it (whether he used a tame or wild wolf to do this is actually not hugely relevant).

To my mind that isn’t wildlife photography. Wildlife photography is about taking pictures of animals acting naturally. The moment you bring your agenda and your own narrative for the creature to fulfill it becomes something other than wildlife photography – perhaps more art photography.

I actually do think the image itself is fantastic (quite literally, there is an air of fantasy about it). It also taps into a whole range of issues from fairy-tale fears to the place of society’s outsiders and it’s technically very good to boot. I just think – and have done since I saw the exhibition – that it’s simply too steeped in narrative and human ‘voice’ to be genuine wildlife photography.

What do you lot think?

It saddens us to confirm that after a careful and thorough investigation into the image, the storybook wolf, the co-owners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide have disqualified the winning entry of the photographer José Luis Rodríguez. The judging panel was reconvened and concluded that it was likely that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for photographic purposes and, as a result, that the image had been entered in breach of Rule 10 of the 2009 Competition. The judging panel looked at a range of evidence and took specialist advice from panel judges who have extensive experience of photographing wildlife including wolves. They also considered the responses to specific questions put to the photographer José Luis Rodriguez.

The competition rules clearly state that photographs of animal models may not be entered into the competition and that images will be disqualified if they are entered in breach of Rule 10. Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition rules are available to all entrants including versions translated into several languages.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the world’s most prestigious photography competition of its kind. Any transgression of the competition rules is taken very seriously and if entries are suspected of breaching the rules they are disqualified. José Luis Rodríguez’s image will be removed from the exhibition and tour.

Mr Rodriguez strongly denies that the wolf in the image is a model wolf.

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