"Everybody knows about the mice on the Underground but I don't think anyone's seen them in that light before," said the photographer.
A young photographer's unique perspective on an unwelcome yet omnipresent feature of life in the city has earned him a prestigious photography award. BBC researcher Sam Rowley's photograph featuring two mice fighting over a few leftover crumbs in a subway station beat out 48,000 images to bag him the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People’s Choice Award on February 12. The competition, hosted by London’s Natural History Museum, selected 25 finalists out of all the eligible entries to be voted on by the public. Twenty-five-year-old Rowley staked out the underground mice from dusk until near dawn for about a week before he was able to capture the winning shot.
"Everybody knows about the mice on the Underground but I don't think anyone's seen them in that light before," he told CNN. The photographer admitted that he got a handful of "strange looks" from commuters while laying on the floor of various central London stations to capture the mice from the ground-level angle. "People were quite curious -- they were quite chatty and nice about the whole thing," he said. He revealed that he got the idea for his winning shot after a friend sent him a video of two mice scrapping.
Taking inspiration from the video his friend shot while on the way home from a night out, Rowley spent about a week visiting station platforms in the evenings and staying until the early hours of the morning in hopes of capturing a similar rodent squabble. "I was quite disappointed with what I managed to get at first," he said, adding that the picture "grew" on him over time. "With the majority of the world living in urban areas and cities now, you have to tell the story about how people relate to wildlife."
"Wildlife is fantastic and I think we need to appreciate the smaller and supposedly more difficult animals to live with," said Rowley. Speaking to BBC, he explained that his two subjects had been foraging separately until their paths crossed across the same morsel of food. The two argued over who should have it for a split second before going their separate ways. "I usually take a burst of photos and I got lucky with this shot, but then I had spent five days lying on a platform so it was probably going to happen at some point," he said.
Rowley, who is currently working in Bristol as a researcher for the BBC's natural history film-making unit, revealed that photographing urban wildlife is his passion. The Londoner believes people have a connection with the animals in our cities and towns since they live among us and admires the tenacity of the creatures for surviving in very tough environments. "These tube mice, for example, are born and spend their whole lives without ever even seeing the Sun or feeling a blade of grass," he said. "On one level, it's a desperate situation - running along gloomy passages for a few months, maybe a year or two, and then dying. And because there are so many mice and so few resources, they have to fight over something as irrelevant as a crumb."
Sir Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History Museum, said of Rowley's picture: "Sam's image provides a fascinating glimpse into how wildlife functions in a human-dominated environment. The mice's behavior is sculpted by our daily routine, the transport we use, and the food we discard. This image reminds us that while we may wander past it every day, humans are inherently intertwined with the nature that is on our doorstep - I hope it inspires people to think about and value this relationship more."