The Bug Photography Awards were established in 2020, with the honest aim of bringing the beauty, intricacy and variety of the invertebrate world to life for many more people through the celebration of its photography.
Insect populations are in serious decline, but the size of most invertebrates makes an appreciation of them less easy with the naked eye. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind can be part of the problem, and so we hope that the press achieved by the Bug Photography Awards imagery is a small part of the solution.
The welfare of the invertebrates that are being photographed is of great importance to the Bug Awards, to our title partner Buglife, and to our sponsors and judges. As such we launched with a set of ethical rules that those entering the awards were required to adhere to.
It’s therefore been a source of real sadness for us here at the awards to be receiving some criticism online surrounding our adherence to those ethical rules since the winners were announced on the 25th November.
There are some images that have been permitted in the awards this year that use a method of anaesthesia that involves placing an insect in ventilated proximity with cotton wool containing ethyl acetate.
This was a method that we were made aware of, and so sought guidance on regarding its ethicality, and discussed it with Buglife. We read research reports (here and here) discussing the use of ethyl acetate as a safe anaesthetic approach for invertebrates when used in small amounts and for short periods, and from which they could make a full recovery.
And we spoke to the photographer who was our first choice for the grand prize this year, and who uses this method for some of his images. We wanted to know whether or not it did result in the insects recovering and regaining full mobility and being seemingly unharmed. Based on these investigations we deemed this method to fall within the current awards rules.
It’s clear that the ethical issues surrounding invertebrate photography are complex, and contain a variety of viewpoints, from a belief in not touching or interacting with live insect subjects in any way at all, through to seeing it as acceptable to kill them specifically for the purpose of photography.
We’re keen to engage much more fully in this debate, so that we can draw a line on that spectrum in the correct place for the 2022 awards and beyond. To do that we need to understand the issues better, the practicalities surrounding them, and the sentiment in the various communities that interact with the awards. We’ll then be able to develop a revised set of ethical guidelines and rules.
If you’d like to contribute to the development of these then we would greatly appreciate your input into a consultation process, which we have now launched. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org anytime before the end of February 2022 with your opinions regarding what is and isn’t acceptable in invertebrate photography and why; how any guidelines would be best enforced to ensure they are being adhered to; and anything else you consider to be relevant to the issues being discussed here. We’ll aim to provide a summary of the viewpoints received, and our revised guidelines and rules ahead of the 2022 awards.
The winners of the 2021 awards will not be changed at this point, and we stand by our decisions as they were taken in good faith and, we believe, in line with the current rules. Our decision to award the grand prize to a photographer that does use this method of anaesthesia in some of his photography has been singled out for particular criticism. Regardless of whether this consultation results in those methods being permitted or not in future editions of the awards, his work was considered this year under the rules as they currently stand and was deemed on that basis to be the portfolio most worthy of the prize.