A crash course in anthropology, wildlife, geography, ecology and more is not what you’d normally expect from a photography exhibition. Apart from simply enjoying the stunning award-winning images, this is exactly what we received when my children and I visited the Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) exhibition in Greenwich.
A sense of wonder combines with paradoxical feelings: of learning so much yet at the same time having confirmed how little we know, how much there is to discover in and about our remarkable world. The display drives home the horizon-broadening importance of travel and the value of our understanding more about others and our natural environment.
We may not be fortunate enough to witness personally all the captured people and places, so the exhibition provides a concentrated way of experiencing a large number of different flavours found in our very wide world. From images of the Chambri tribe of Papua New Guinea and their reptilian ritual scarring arising from their reverence of crocodiles, to Chinese swimmers crammed into a Sichuan swimming pool, obscuring any sign of water as they cling to a sea of colourful inflatables in order to escape the unbearable heat of one of the country’s most overpopulated provinces.
Captivating colours featured in aerial shots of phosphogypsum-stained lakes in Rio Tinto, angelically elegant Egrets caring for their young in China’s Xiangshan Forest and personality-oozing pelicans in Namibia contrast with the inescapable reality of life for the Untouchable caste dwelling in their grim surroundings in the city of Varanasi.
A large map of the world, studded with colourful, round-headed drawing pins caught our attention for some time. It invites visitors to place a pin in the location they would most like to visit and was remarkably striking and thought-provoking on many levels. We studied the scattering and concentrations of pins that represent previous visitors’ dream destinations; discussed different locations and our own possible choices; agonised over where to finally decide upon (we each chose two different locations in the end).
The map and exhibition really engaged the children and brought home just how many different and varied places there are on this planet. It is also worth noting that some of the remarkable featured photographs were submitted by children as young as eleven years old.
Technology is not neglected, with underwater camera shots mixing with bold images of man’s engineering and architectural ingenuity, such as a lighthouse-lit tunnel on the German island of Heligoland. There is also a dedicated category for HD video and a new one for smart shots taken on mobile devices.
I certainly left with a greater consideration for the photos I took once we went to explore the other attractions of Greenwich, and thought more about utilising the capabilities of my iPhone’s camera. We managed to visit Greenwich Market, the Painted Hall and Chapel in the Old Royal Naval College and the Cutty Sark before the children’s stamina gave out.
The TPOTY exhibition recently relocated from its former annual home at the Royal Geographical Society to its new residency in the University of Greenwich’s award-winning 10 Stockwell Street building. With the area’s history so steeped in navigation, travel and discovery, this new home within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Maritime Greenwich is a perfect fit.
Entry to the exhibition is free, and it is open seven days a week (see www.tpoty.com/exhibitions/london).