2021 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition opens at the Australian Museum

From a baby octopus in the depths of the Lembeh Strait, Indonesia, to turtles on Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, and the majestic fjords of New Zealand, visitors can explore the remote corners of our region when the 2021 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year (AGNPY) exhibition opens at the Australian Museum (AM) on Saturday 30 October 2021.

The 2021 AGNPY exhibition, produced by the South Australian Museum, features 109 of the best images chosen from  2206 submissions, including Scott Portelli’s overall winning image, ‘Leafy Night.’ Portelli also won the Threatened Species category with his grey nurse shark image, ‘Declining Species.’

Portelli, a Sydney photographer, captured the winning photograph of a seadragon in March 2020 shortly after the announcement of COVID-19 restrictions impacted his year-long journey around Australia.

“The nation-wide lockdown was declared, and we were stuck for six weeks at a small campground in the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. This ended up being a blessing in disguise,” Portelli said.

“Over the course of six weeks I had the opportunity to dive regularly, becoming familiar with the terrain, getting to know the dive site and spotting a few individual seadragons. I became acquainted with the resident dragons of Second Valley and this is how I managed to get the shot,” he said.

“After several encounters with one particular seadragon it appeared to become unperturbed by my presence and I was able to compose a shot that tightly captured its eyes, features and appendages front-on,” Portelli added.

Australian Museum Director and CEO, Kim McKay AO, said that with all travel plans cancelled over the past two years, the vivid images remind us of the wonder and joy to be had from our natural world.

“The photographers have used their lenses to not only capture secret moments in nature that have never been seen before, but also highlight some of the important environmental issues that we face.”                        

“Together, these images combine to create a powerful exhibition that raises awareness of the need to conserve our wildlife and biodiversity, which is a key aim of our work at the Australian Museum,” McKay said.

The judges, Narelle Autio, Trent Parke and Stavros Pippos, were united in selecting this unique and striking image as the overall winner.

“The backlighting has transformed the seadragon from a tiny sea creature into the illusion of a mythical beast. Beautifully framed, the dragon emerges from the darkness, glowing with a sense of fire within,” the judges said.

Portelli, a photographer for over 20 years, said that winning the 2021 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year was a highlight of his photographic career.

“Being awarded in one of the most prestigious and respected nature photography competitions in Australia is an honour and a privilege. This is one of my proudest moments,” he said.

“The photograph shows the intricate details of the leafy seadragons in a different way, I wanted to capture the essence of this delicate and vulnerable species that are only found in the South of Australia. The more we understand the ocean and its inhabitants the more people will feel connected and take action to protect our ocean creatures,” Portelli added.

Editor-in-Chief, Australian Geographic, Chrissie Goldrick said that the restrictions experienced by us all in the lead up to the competition did not impact on the quality and breadth of the photography on display in this year’s exhibition.

“In fact, the winning photo came about as result of the pandemic, so the photographers have shown great resourcefulness, and their photos once again demonstrate the raw beauty and power of the natural history of our biogeographic region,” Goldrick said.

As Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year, Portelli receives a cash prize of $10,000 and a Coral Expeditions holiday.

On display at the Australian Museum’s Hintze Hall and free to all visitors, AGNPY is now in its 18th year. The 2021 competition received 2206 entries from amateur and professional photographers capturing the beauty of our region’s fauna and landscapes.

Visitors are invited to cast their vote for their favourite photograph in our People’s Choice competition for the chance to win a $1000 gift voucher from Digital Camera Warehouse, and a $250 voucher for use in the AM’s shop.

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