The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is hosting an exhibition that highlights the wonder of nature through photographs of extraordinary and often rarely seen animal behaviors.
“Unforgettable Behavior: wildlife Photographer of the Year” Exhibit
“Unforgettable Behavior: Wildlife Photographer of the Year” will offer visitors the opportunity to see the beauty and fragility of wildlife and challenge them to think differently about their relationship with nature.
“Unforgettable Behavior” is a specially curated photography show from the Natural History Museum in London. It features 38 award-winning images from past Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions.
Each photograph tells a unique story—from life-or-death decisions to changing environments and human interactions. The images ignite curiosity about the natural world and invite visitors to become advocates for the planet.
“These photos allow us to connect with animals we might never otherwise see,” said Michael
Lawrence, assistant director for exhibitions at the National Museum of Natural History. “They show an extraordinary range of surprising and often deeply moving acts of animal behavior that inspire us to care about the world around us.”
Wildlife Photographer of the Year is an annual competition with thousands of professional and
amateur entries from nearly 100 countries worldwide. Winners are chosen for technical innovation,
artistic composition and authentic representation of the natural world.
The competition not only showcases some of the world’s best nature photography, but also features the important stories behind these images in extended captions. Many illustrate our complicated relationship with nature and raise awareness of global environmental issues. The competition started in 1965 and is the longest running and most prestigious photographic competition of its kind.
On at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History
We love any excuse to visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History so when we heard the “Unforgettable Behavior” exhibit was coming to Washington, DC we planned our visit. When we arrived at the museum we headed right to the exhibit on the second floor.
We were immediately drawn in by the comedy and discourse of “Facebook Update” by Marsel van Oosten. While the exhibit takes up a physically small space, the images permeated our thoughts.
Each photograph was expertly captured by some of the most accomplished wildlife photographers from across the world. That fact carried little weight with our kids, but the images captured the natural world in all of its complexity. That fact was very apparent to even our five year old.
Each child was drawn to different images. They commented on the technical aspects of the images asking questions to understand the mechanics of the shot. It was helpful that the settings and equipment was posted next to each image. The kids started to pick up on how the different settings and equipment impacted the final image.
With other images they were enthralled by the subject, asking more biological and ecological questions. They were also interested in the situations surrounding the images.
We spent about an hour in the exhibit. We took time to appreciate each image and converse on a myriad of topics. If our kids were a bit older we could have stayed longer to discuss and compare the images a bit more.
Aside from being a delightful way to spend an afternoon with our kids, the “Unforgettable Behavior” exhibit reminded us all of our impact and connectedness to the natural world. We left thinking about the consequences of our lifestyle choices.
“Unforgettable Behavior” also illustrated how a career in wildlife photography combines a love of wildlife and art. We have some very animal obsessed kids who also love art so this exhibit broached the subject of possible future careers.
We left the “Unforgettable Behavior” exhibit in the perfect headspace to explore the rest of the museum. We saw some familiar exhibits with a fresh curiosity. We reflected on familiar specimen with a renewed conviction to ensure their survival for future generations. We entered the museum cafe with the consequences of our choices at the forefront of our decision making.
We each have our own personal relationship to the world around us and it is impacted by the information we consume. The “Unforgettable Behavior” exhibit offers everyone an opportunity to explore their relationship with the natural world, reflect on the consequences of their preferences and learn the extent of the human impact on the rest of the natural world.
interviews with Wildlife photographers
We were inspired by the work of the “Unforgettable Behavior” exhibit so when we had an opportunity to interview some of the wildlife photographers featured in the exhibit we knew we wanted to learn more about the people behind the lenses.
Once we started thinking of questions we had a hard time narrowing them down. The exhibit had definitely succeeded in sparking our curiosity and igniting our advocacy. We were enthusiastic to hear more about some of our favorite photos and the photographers who captured them.
We hope you will be inspired to go see these amazing photos for yourself and enjoy learning more about wildlife photography. Read our full interviews with Marsel van Oosten, Yongqing Bao & Bill Harbin.
The image featured at the entry to the exhibit was “Facebook Update” captured by Marsel van Oosten. We enjoyed the comedy of the image as well as a commentary of our society’s current relationship with social media. We couldn’t help but feel we look just as silly scrolling.
Marsel was gracious enough to sit down and video chat with myself and my kids to answer some of our questions about his work.
“I think the monkey thought it was like a present. So it grabbed the phone from her hands. Then he jumped back into the water. That’s when he started playing with the phone upside down and looking at it. Then in the water, out of the water. The woman was screaming all the time because she was really terrified that her phone would be destroyed by the monkey, which is obviously what happened.”-Marsel van Oosten
“The Moment” grabbed the attention of our kids from across the room. They were surprised and enthralled by the drama and intensity. Yongqing Bao frames a standoff between a Tibetan fox and a marmot. The image evoked such humanity that we were awestricken. One of the kids even asked if the animals were real.
He is the first Chinese photographer to receive the honour, which is awarded annually by the UK’s Natural History Museum. We appreciate the time Yongqing Bao took to answer our questions.
“There is an old Chinese saying that “Heaven does not speak, four seasons make a circle, earth does not speak, all things start to grow.” Biodiversity is an important foundation for our survival and development. All of us are responsible for human civilization. The only correct way is making an earth where human and animals live peacefully. We should revere nature, conform to nature, just because we are all children of nature.”-Yongqing Bao
There is beauty and intention in nature. Sometimes when you look really closely at the fine details you can see majesty in the most unlikely places. Bill Harbin documents the changes, struggles, hope, and circumstances he comes across at each turn in some familiar roads. We appreciate the time Bill Harbin took to answer our questions.
“I think a good nature image that captures an animals face fosters a human to animal connection increasing our understanding and appreciation of the natural world.”– Bill Harbin
See the “Unforgettable Behavior: wildlife Photographer of the Year” Exhibit yourself
See the wonder, beauty and impact of the “Unforgettable Behavior: Wildlife Photographer of the Year” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The museum is located at 1000 Madison Drive NW Washington, D.C. 20560. Admission is FREE. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday 10 AM to 5:30 PM, except Dec. 25.