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THE BEST OF THE AGFA WILDLIFE AWARDS: (article first published : 2001-10-21)

Lovers of wildlife and the environment know that when you go into the bush, you should only leave footprints behind you. Also, the only thing you should be armed with is a camera.

The Best of the AGFA Wildlife Awards:Twenty Years of Winning Photography presents the work of some of the most creative minds who probably went about their business armed to the teeth … with photographic technology and experience!

This utterly superb, fascinating and beautifully-presented publication represents photographs drawn from the winning shots selected in the annual Agfa Wildlife and Environment Awards held in Johannesburg through the 20 years of the competition’s existence.

The internationally-recognised awards attract submissions from amateurs and professionals alike as well as from local and international talent. The main criteria for the eight categories is that the slides must have been taken in Africa or the islands or waters surrounding Africa. Last year’s winner was Gerald Hinde and the book features his superb shot of a lioness stalking her prey.

The introduction pages are highly dramatic with the gentle Dandelion precision (Herman van den Berg), dramatic Sunset with grass (Peter Pickford) and surreal Stampede (Johann Knobel) leading into the magnificent Dewdrop lenses resembling a delicate crystal tiara by J L du Plessis whose main interest is macro photography.

There are many memorable images but some really stand out, like Frank Krahmer’s African Buffalo (1999) covered in the thick crusty orange Aberdare soil. Helmut Niebuhr’s A Leisurely Lookout (1996) is an exquisite study of an unperturbed female leopard. A reminder of how miserable wild animals look when they are wet is seen in Freek van Eeden’s Wet Lion (1998), beautifully placed opposite another profile shot, that of Adrian Bailey’s Wildebeest (1998).

There’s a sense of drama and revulsion in Jamie Thom’s Freeding Frenzy (1994) where the photographer admits to a sense of fear as he watched 15 lions devour a wildebeest alive.

Not all the photographs are of wild life – there’s serenity and elegance of landscape in Matthias Graben’s Shadows on Namib Dunes (1998)

Among the fun shots are Theo Allof’s delightful Black-backed Jackal behind Elephant Leg (1998) which captures a jackal spying on doves from behind a massive pachyderm’s leg. Also the utterly charming Heaven Scent (1995) by Martin Kitzen which shows the delightful image of a jackal, eyes-closed with a blissful expression, sniffing a bush.

KZN Photographers featured are Pat and Roger de la Harpe; Nigel J Dennis; Cornie Malan; Ivor Migdoll; Peter Pinnock; Heinrich, Herman, Ingrid and Philip van den Berg; James Wakelin; DC Williams, and Alan Wilson.

The book is like a treasure trove – too much beauty and excellence to absorb in one go. This is something to return to time and time again when the visual senses need rejuvenating. Each photograph is a rich delight in itself and the photographers have generously given details of equipment and settings.

Produced by Struik New Holland Publishing and retailing at R189.95, this coffee table book is highly recommended as a gift for overseas or corporate visitors as well as a special luxury for lovers of wildlife to keep at home. It is a valuable reminder of Africa’s wild life and multi-faceted environment – be it land, sea or air - that is so precious but often taken too much for granted. – Cherry MacIldowie




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