From a hummingbird piercing a water droplet to a roadrunner grasping its lunch to a tiger-heron posing for a portrait, the winners of the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards have captured a striking array of birds across the western hemisphere. Out of more than 6,000 entries, the top ten shots glimpse the transitory moments in avian lives that are otherwise unseen.
New York-based photographer Joanna Lentini secured the grand prize with her stunning photograph of a double-crested cormorant descending into the center of a school of fish in Los Islotes, Mexico. “I watched in awe as the cormorants plunged beak-first into the sea to snap at the sardines swimming by. Although I spent a long time admiring these birds, I didn’t see a single one catch a fish. Adding insult to injury, curious sea lion pups would zip by the hunting birds and nip at them from behind,” Lentini says.
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Like most romances, penguins’ relationships aren’t black and white. The aquatic birds are known for their scandalous affairs, messy heartbreaks, and frequent kidnappings of each others’ chicks. To keep track of their complicated relationship statuses, caretakers at Tokyo’s Sumida Aquarium and Kyoto Aquarium have created a complex network documenting 2020’s romances.
The two flowcharts are replete with color-coded lines and symbols: Red hearts denote couples. Purple lines with question marks signify more complicated relationships with the potential of romance. A blue, broken heart indicates an ended affair. Yellow lines mean friendship, while green marks an enemy. Each penguin’s name is written underneath its photo.
In an interview with CNN Travel, Shoko Okuda, a spokeswoman for the aquariums, said the caretakers have included the dramatic birds’ flirtatious tactics, too, which includes wing flapping and shaking their necks left to right. Heartbroken birds—one female in Kyoto (shown below) ended six relationships last year alone—often refuse to eat their rice as they cope with the loss. The caretakers included have formed strong bonds with the penguins, sometimes even coming between same-species connections.
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Through a Blur of Migratory Birds, Photographer Sankar Sridhar Captures the Rituals of the Yamuna River
When Dehli-based photographer Sankar Sridhar visits the Yamuna River in winter, he observes hundreds of gulls, terns, and other birds as they flock to the Ganges tributary that flows through the Indian city. Despite the river’s inability to maintain a thriving ecosystem in that stretch, the avians are spurred by site fidelity as they migrate each year, a ritualistic act Sridhar recently captured in a series titled Long Live the River.
Because the tributary attracts such an influx of avians, it’s also a site of religiosity and legend. People travel to the water to feed the birds, an act thought to bring good karma, and disperse offerings for their loved ones who’ve died. “My approach to documenting life along a small stretch of this river was driven by the deep connection of rivers and life and divinity in Hindu texts, mythology, and legend. The fact that the Yamuna is considered the only river with the power to grant immortality to humans seemed an irony that could not be overlooked,” the photographer says.
Fifteen drains of untreated wastewater from household, municipal, and industrial sources flow into the tributary, saturating it with chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, and garbage that eliminate aquatic life. However, Sridhar notes that in 2017, officials recorded 24 bird species residing in the river’s wetlands. “This finding came as a surprise, given the greatly degraded water quality of the Yamuna,” he says.
Using a low shutter speed, Sridhar captures the annual rituals through clouds of Dehli’s thick smog, blurring the flying creatures as they swoop over the water. The obscured visitors mar clear shots of boats and the horizons as they appear to linger above the water in shadowy flocks. “I aimed to impart a surreal touch to the images by using the boats as the fabled transport into the afterlife while flight-paths of the birds as metaphors —as much for the souls of the dead as the mad chaos in our world that blinds us to the damage we do to the environment,” he says. “Throughout, though, the river remains a giver of life, despite having the life sucked out of her.”
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Steve Benjamin generally uses his background in Zoology to capture the underwater lives of sharks, whales, and dolphins. But due to quarantine restrictions spurred by the ongoing threat of COVID-19—South Africa has imposed some of the strictest regulations in the world because a high percentage of the population has compromised immune systems—the Cape Town-based photographer has shifted his focus to the feathered animals visiting his backyard.
Sunbirds is a stunning series of portraits captured using the same techniques as underwater photography. Benjamin tells Colossal he established a miniature studio for his avian visitors by positioning a feeder in a small sunny area with nearby shade, plenty of blooming flowers, and twig perches. “This is a studio setting for wild birds that are free to come and go as they please,” the photographer says.
To ensure the backdrop was dark, he used shutter speeds of 1/2,000 of a second and mounted additional lights to illuminate the vibrant intricacies of the feathers, feet, and bills. “The birds did not like flash photography so I have to figure out how to get constant light onto them with my underwater video lights,” he writes. “I had to get the birds used to being close to bright lights, which took a while.”
You can see the full series on Benjamin’s site, in addition to a deep dive into his process and equipment in the video below. He also shares an array of wildlife shots on his Instagram. (via PetaPixel)
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Sydney-based artist Mechelle Bounpraseuth crafts life-sized ceramics that explore her identity as a first-generation daughter of Laotian refugees. Her small and glossy ceramic artwork, which ranges from drink cans to widely known sauces, explores her connection with her past and how branded ingredients are rooted in culinary culture and rituals.
Bounpraseuth was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and despite many fond memories of her family and childhood, her religion discouraged her from pursuing artistic pursuits. She left the religion in her 20s and got married, realizing that her dream of becoming an artist was possible and that she didn’t have to succumb to the person her religion had wanted her to be.
Her creativity initially began from drawing and creating zines, before Bounpraseuth enrolled in a ceramics course and began crafting functional objects. Noticing her talent for the medium, her tutor encouraged her to pursue work with more artistic flair. She began to expand on her drawings of household objects by recreating them in clay and glossy bright colors.
One of Bounpraseuth’s ceramics is a Heinz Ketchup bottle, a condiment found in many family fridges and cupboards throughout the world. For the artist, the sauce represents the memory of her family eating pho together, a ritual in which they would come together and make the recipe from scratch with a dollop of ketchup. These sculptural forms are meaningful symbols to Bounpraseuth as the pho was a labor of love and would take her family all day to make.
Through the creation of these domestic objects from her past, Bounpraseuth uses her artwork as a way to reflect upon and process her childhood memories and as a way to navigate her old and new identities. These pieces illustrate how some values remain passed down from generations, like Bounparseuth’s reference to her family’s shared domesticity, while some core aspects of family, like religion, are not always.
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If Igor Verny’s dragonflies and birds have difficulty taking flight, they may need a few squirts of WD-40 to get their metallic wings flapping. The Russian artist (previously) assembles steampunk-inspired sculptures that are fully articulated and can be shaped into realistic poses of daily activities. Merging the organic and industrial, each polished insect and animal is formed with scrap metal and other discarded objects. To see Verny modeling his organisms’ movements, head to Instagram.
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