Up Close: Nature’s Jewels

by Jean Schiffman

Dazzling photographs by the winners of California Academy of Science’s annual BigPicture contest are on display this month.

You can view the winning photographs in each category of California Academy of Sciences' third annual BigPicture competition on the Academy's website-but then you'd miss the visceral pleasure of being surrounded by dazzling images of some of nature's most intriguing creations.

Displayed in a partially enclosed exhibition area on the museum's ground floor, the 48 images were taken by nature photographers in 27 countries, and selected by a jury from among 5,000 submissions.

The grand prize-winning "White Rhino," by Belgian photographer Maroesjka Lavigne, occupies one entire wall panel. The beast, which stands beside a barren lake in Namibia, is so camouflaged by dried, bleached-out mud and dust that it almost disappears into the eerily pale landscape. Jury head and wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas sees in the image a metaphor for the endangered rhinoceros itself. Academy executive director Jonathan Foley writes, in a display caption, that the white rhino, returned from near extinction, is "a beautiful expression of life-even in this most arid, desolate place."

The exhibit is divided into Landscapes, Waterscapes and Flora; Aquatic Life; Human/Nature (Nayan Khanolka's portrait of a leopard in India is particularly mesmerizing, its watchful eyes intent on the camera); Art of Nature (the colors in German photographer Peter Juzak's shot of sulfur crystals-royal blue, yellow,
magenta, gold, lime green, pink-dazzle); Terrestrial Wildlife (a group of zebras are
seen, by Kenyan photographer Manoj Shah, seemingly from beneath the belly of a beast); Winged Life (Italian photographer Marco Urso's view of a gliding pelican includes a few painterly-looking pelicans in flight). In addition, for the first time this year, there's a photo essay: Eric Madeja's examination of
coral reef ecosystems.

California Academy of Sciences

55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park

Through Oct. 30