I’ve been making animal sculpture trophies for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition since 1998.
This year was to be very different from previous years, however. Thanks to the coronavirus, the Natural History Museum would not be hosting its usual extravagant ceremony. Instead wildlife TV presenters Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin were brought in to host a live streamed awards ceremony from the museum using video to connect with the award winners. You can watch the live ceremony on Youtube.
As in previous years, I was commissioned to make a series of animal sculpture trophies depicting the animals in the winning photographs. Sergey Gorshkov’s photograph of a Siberian tiger embracing a tree is the kind of image that stops you in your tracks. It’s not just a striking image but beautifully rendered with a lovely painterly feel.
It was important to capture this rarely seen behaviour in the sculpture. I found a beautiful thick piece of tree bark, which served as the tree for the tiger to embrace. The pose was very complicated and took some time to resolve. After Raku firing the tiger sculpture, it had to be attached to the wood and mounted on a piece of Chinese slate, carefully chosen to complement the colours in the sculpture.
Sergey was selected by an esteemed panel of judges from nearly 50,000 entries. It is a ‘scene like no other’ according to Chair of the Jury Roz Kidman-Cox. Taken in the Siberian wilderness of Russia, it shows a majestic Siberian tigress hugging a Manchurian fir. A wondrous display of animal behaviour in its natural habitat, it is a symbol of hope for the critically endangered species.
Sergey describes how he installed his first camera trap at the site of the ancient Manchurian fir tree in January 2019. He knew that the tree was used by the tigress for scent marking, as it may have been used by many tigers before her to mark the extent of their territory in the Russian Far East. ‘From then on, I could think of nothing else,’ he writes. He would trek to the camera sites every three months. But tigers are extremely cautious of anything new in their environment, and he only ever captured three pictures of tigers. He saw one himself only once – with night-vision equipment and shaking hands. He finally photographed this magnificent female embracing the tree in November 2019. The tigress now has three cubs, so of course he is now chasing a photograph of the family in their taiga wilderness.
The Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Liina Heikkinen, captured an equally impressive photograph of a European fox guarding its kill. The fox is tense and primed for confrontation, its ears thrown back in threat, its face a mask of intimidation.
I needed to capture these elements in my animal sculpture trophy and chose a dynamic pose that related to the shapes in Liina’s award winning photograph. For this sculpture I used a reclaimed slate plinth for its natural rawness, which I felt complemented the animal and its dramatic wild setting.
The next step will be to carefully pack the animal sculpture trophies for shipping to Russia and Finland so they can be united with the winning photographers. I wish them every success for the future.