This year, London’s Natural History Museum has awarded its most prestigious prize to a photo of animals often overlooked and disregarded: mice.
Sam Rowley, who took the photo, was named Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He spent a week trying to capture his winning photo, “Station Squabble,” from platforms of the London Underground.
“It’s a such an honour to be chosen. It’s been a bit of a dream of mine for almost 15 years,” he told As It Happens host Carol Off.
The photo shows two mice tussling on a London train platform.
According to Rowley, the fight lasted “about a quarter of a second.”
The annual prize is decided by public vote. This year, Rowley’s photo won out over 48,000 submitted.
‘The most insignificant little thing’
Rowley committed to his project after a friend texted him a photo of mice on a night out. To capture the perfect moment, Rowley spent a week lying on various train platforms, sometimes 5 hours at a time, he said.
People like to see [local wildlife] in a different light … it affects their day-to-day lives a little bit more.
“I was getting lots of funny looks from strangers,” he said. “Thank goodness something actually came out of it … otherwise that would have been even more embarrassing.”
In his winning photograph, the two station mice are fighting over a small crumb nearby.
“There was the tiniest morsel … the most insignificant little thing.”
Rowley described the living conditions for mice in the London Underground as “horrific.” The blue hues and artificial lighting from the train tunnel communicates that “dystopian” reality in his photo, Rowley said.
“They’re really stuck down there … the only food that they’ll ever eat is the food that’s just discarded by people.”
“They might live at best for a year, and don’t ever see the sun. They’ll never feel the grass on their feet.”
Urban wildlife photography
“Station Squabble,” follows the trend of urban wildlife photography, which extends our view of nature photography to include city dwellers, animals many of us encounter on a daily basis.
“I was brought up in London, so you know, by default that was the wildlife I had around me,” he told Off.
But Rowley said his urban animal photography has always been the most popular with audiences. He has worked on photography and film shoots around the world, but it’s the projects of animals close to home that resonate most.
“People like to see [local wildlife] in a different light … it affects their day to day lives a little bit more.”
Rowley said “Station Squabble” has left an impact on him as well. He won’t be looking at underground mice the same way going forward.
“By the end you know I had the utmost respect for them. And yeah, I now am that weirdo at the end of the platform on a night out that the stands watching the mice.”
Written by Sarah Claydon. Produced by Samantha Lui.