The Windland Smith Rice Awards:
Stunning Nature Photography from Around the World


The counterfeit and counterpart of Nature is reproduced in art. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It won’t surprise you to hear that I recently attended an exhibition of some of the most beautiful and awe inspiring visual arts displays from around the world at one of the Smithsonian museums. It might however, surprise you to hear that I attended it at the Museum of Natural History where we generally go to see archeological and mineralogical wonders than what we consider “works of art.”

The Windland Smith Rice Awards on display on the 2nd floor of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History by the Hall of Gems, through September 25, are a display of the winners in every category and several specially chosen Highly Honored Images from last year’s 2010 competition where there were over 25,000 entries from around the winner. The pictures are displayed in framed blow-ups ranging from 2-foot by 3-foot to 4-foot by 6-foot and the categories include People in Nature, Power in Nature, Landscapes, Oceans, Animal Antics, African Wildlife, Plant Life, Endangered Species, Art in Nature, and there’s even a category for Zoos and Aquariums. Every year millions of people come to enjoy the displays and video presentations of past winners.

What makes the Woodland Smith Rice Awards such a sublime experience is that while there is only one photograph that garners the official award for the category Art in Nature, the whole exhibit is a testament to the awe inspiring beauty and grandeur of the natural world. It is designed to elicit a sense of humility and wonder at the magnificent yet fragile planet we inhabit and to instill a sense of respect and appreciation for unique ecosystems whether they be in Costa Rica, Alaska, Borneo, Finland, or Kenya.

It is not hard to see the immediate appeal of a picture of a polar bear and her two cubs where one cub is ‘hugging’ mama, (cue Awwws!) as is the case with Thomas Kotka’s Highly Honored Animal Antics picture that was taken in Manitoba.  (photo, above). And who could resist seeing a Mountain Lowland Gorilla at the Bronx Zoo hanging out with his friend the duckling?!? (Winner Zoos and Aquariums; Tom Warren).

But we don’t wouldn’t necessarily understand the ghostly and fragile beauty of Wolf Tracks on Ice (Winner Environmental Issues; Carl Johnson) until we saw it for ourselves.

Nor for that matter do leaf cutter ants usually get much respect for their aesthetic qualities yet Bence Mate of Hungary, managed to capture a procession of them carrying petals in Costa Rica that makes them appear a splendid procession.

Mate won the Small World Spectaculars for another picture from Costa Rica depicting a Hummingbird with a Pit Viper that manages to convey the same sense of drama that other photographs found in cheetahs attacking springboks.

There are also honors for individual photographers and camera clubs. This year’s Camera Club winners were the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club of Denver Colorado, who took pictures, polar bears, leaves, coyotes, robins, sea lions, bighorn sheep, and a brown bear with fish. The Best Conservation Photographer award was given to D.C. native Cristina Mittermeier whose huge photograph of a land crab in Madagascar seems to suggest an alien tank on the warpath.

Eric Coomes of Ontario at age 18, won best Youth Photographer of the Year for capturing a fantastic picture of a polar bear in Norway; as Eric writes in his description, “while grasping onto a ledge the mighty predator shook to and fro, sending a spray of water droplets in all directions.”

Not all the photos contain animals, fish, or birds. There’s a special category for Plant Life; Wildflower which this year was won by Edward Nunez’s spectacular shot of the Carrizon Plain National Monument where yellow and purple flowers grown among rust colored fields.

A picture of a Twister at the North Shore in Oahu (Winner Oceans; Clark Little), possesses a primal power that seems to suck you directly into the vortex.

In fact the picture that won the category Power of Nature, a volcano in Hawaii presents the illusion that the lava is about to flow off the print and burn a hole right through the floor. Perhaps most extraordinary of all

The display also highlights the way different aspects of the planet can come together in surprising ways. The Winner Landscapes displays a flock of flamingos flying past majestic snowy peaks in the Horns of Paine. It’s an image whose surrealism seems to rival Dali’s.

The category People in Nature was won by a magnificent shot of hot air balloons floating above a vast herd of wildebeests in Kenya. The balloons are like huge rainbow swatches across the grasslands with passengers faces visible registering a state of awe and bliss in their surroundings.

There’s more-much more on display. No verbal description can do justice to such superb examples of a visual art form. So enjoy the excellent air conditioning at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and see the exhibit before it closes in September. It will be the equivalent of touring the globe’s environmental hot spots all from a single room.

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