There's no shortage of animal photographs. Amid the sea of images that surrounds us, Britta Jaschinski, winner of the 2010 European Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, presents photographs of animals that resonate as strikingly memorable images deserving our fresh attention.
Jaschinski's photograph, "Ghostly Cheetah," was selected as the overall winner in this contest, which is being hosted for the 10th time by Germany's Gesellschaft Deutscher Tierfotografen.
In the award-winning picture of a cheetah moving through the landscape, the animal's striking form and pattern of coloration make him stand out in his surroundings.
“I arrived in Ndutu only days after a huge bush fire had ripped through the area, burning down a vast number of majestic acacia trees. You could smell ash and cinders in the air. The destructive power of these fires is immense. I found many empty, whitened tortoise shells and saw disorientated impala and dik-dik wandering around with nowhere to hide. And then, a cheetah appeared on the blackened soil. This fire must have been a windfall for large cats — their prey was confused and out in the open. But the cheetah looked unsettled, alienated and lost — almost ghostly. I took the photo and then watched as he melted into the background.
"The cheetah is endangered due to loss of habitat, reduced prey and direct persecution. I feel this photo highlights how exposed and vulnerable this species is. As in many of my images, the animal looks like a ghost. Like a creature which only exists in our memory, as if they are already extinct and now haunting us, pricking our conscience.”
Jaschinski conveys an aesthetic and ethical ambiguity, and complexity, in her images. Traditionally, we describe a subject as being "captured" in a photograph, but Jaschinski definitely doesn't want to capture animals. Her 1996 book Zoo looks at captive animals with a keenly incisive pathos: penguins and seals in harsh cement ponds, gibbons and buffalo in cramped, sterile fenced-in compounds. The book showed her audience how traumatized and fragmented animals are when they are locked up and put on display for the spectators' convenience.
The animals in Zoo, hapless victims of our voyeurism, are painfully decontexualized, while her next book, Wild Things (2003), pointedly depicts animals and habitats in conjunction with each other. To appreciate who animals are, we need to think at the same time about where they live.
For her next project, Jaschinski is planning an expedition to photograph polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. Armed with her 25-year-old camera and some black-and-white film, she will, of course, attempt to find something unique as she travels far out into the tundra in search of these animals. Her challenge will be to recount her interaction with their lives in their world, without compartmentalizing or diminishing them as a fetish of human culture.