By Vicki Jauron
Back in 2019 a friend sent me a link to the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. “You have some pretty funny stuff,” she said, “You should really enter this contest.” At that point I had only started submitting images in a few competitions with no success, and was still trying to get over my intrinsic fear of the whole process. What I liked about the Comedy Wildlife Photography competition is that it seemed a little less daunting and scary, and it was also a little more obvious what they wanted – an image that makes you laugh, right?
But what I found is that it isn’t as easy as you might think. I have lots of “cute” images, yes they might make you smile and say “aww” but they’re not going to elicit a roaring belly laugh. Looking at the past winning images, most tend to show animals doing something human-like, something we would find funny seeing a human do, but is even more hilarious when you see an animal doing it. It hits our natural need to “anthropomorphize” or assign human emotions or intentions to non-human situations.
In 2019, my “Laughing Snowy Owl” image made it to the finalist stage and gained quite a bit of press coverage. I think the success of this image was that you just couldn’t help laughing along with the owl – she just looked so jolly and you could envision having just shared a secret joke with her. But of course, that is not what was happening. Most of you can probably guess that she was actually getting ready to spit out a pellet.
The following year, 2020, I made it to the finals again with an image of a two pelicans called “Abracadabra”– showing one pelican lifting his wings to put a spell on the other. Again, my characterization or the viewers read of the situation was not reflective of reality. The truth is the pelican in back was chasing the pelican in front, trying to get him out of the pond like he had done all morning. There was obviously bad blood between them (if I’m speaking anthropomorphically again).
This year, I was thrilled to be named winner of the Comedy Wildlife – Portfolio Award. In this part of the competition, you enter four images that work together to tell a funny story. My entry ”Joy of a Mud Bath” showed a young elephant dunking his body into the mud (butt and then face), drying off vigorously and then ending with a good scratch. I entered it as a series as I felt none of the images on their own couldn’t capture the energy or emotion I saw, but when you viewed them together, they gave the viewer of sense of the feeling of joy I envisioned that this elephant truly felt. Yeah, still a little bit of anthropomophism here, but probably much closer to reality than my previous entries.
The images in “Joy of a Mudbath” were taken at Matusadona National Park on the shore of Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. This is an iconic location with dead trees in the water along the shoreline. The scene turns magical at sunset. But unfortunately, these images were taken right smack in the middle of the day in full sun (bad light), when, unfortunately most elephant mud baths I’ve seen tend to happen. So would I enter these images into a competition where photographic skill, light, uniqueness was a factor – No absolutely not! But, knowing the focus of this competition, I felt the images were appropriate for the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.
I know this award does not carry the prestige of a win in a Nature’s Best, National Geographic or NANPA’s own Showcase competition. Those awards are more about photographic excellence whereas this award is really about finding a moment in nature that generates a laugh and brings us all some much needed levity. Hopefully it also helps us humans connect to and want to preserve the amazing animals with whom we share this earth. Let’s hope.
In addition to her win in the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, Vicki Jauron has had images place in the Top 100 for NANPA Showcase, National Audubon and WildArt Photographer Year as well as reached the finalist stage the 2020 and 2021 Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year Competition. She is proud to have one of her cheetah images featured in the “Remembering Wildlife” books along with some of the world’s top wildlife photographers. Vicki strives to promote a love of nature and commitment to its preservation particularly in young children. Her two children’s books “The Magical Bird Beach of Long Island” and “The Magical Bird Beach of Long Island in Winter” expose children to the beauty and unique characteristics of some of her favorite shorebirds, including the snowy owl. Both books are available on Amazon.com.