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Disrespectful Photographs: Two Views

Is it possible to demean a game animal with a photograph?

Is it possible to demean a game animal with a photograph?

The question came to me when Andrew Dawson of Chifuti Safaris in Zimbabwe asked me not to take his photo as he sat down wearily on a Cape buffalo we’d finally shot after an exhausting five-hour follow-up. Andrew explained that he’d once had his picture taken with Craig Boddington while perched on a buffalo. The photo was used on the jacket of one of Craig’s videos and, he said, Craig received all sorts of complaints.

Upset viewers were affronted at what they claimed was a “disrespectful” pose.

I understood Andrew’s concern as I’d heard it before. On my recent Tanzanian safari, my good friend Michel Mantheakis, the PH on our safari, scolded me for climbing on top of an elephant I’d shot and asking him to take my picture.

“That’s disrespectful, Cameron,” Michel admonished me.

“Not really,” I countered. “It’s a traditional pose. All the old elephant hunters were photographed squatting atop an elephant. Please, take the picture, if you don't mind too much.”

Michel reluctantly snapped a perfunctory picture, but it was clear that he didn’t approve. Later, I asked the trackers and game scouts to join me atop the bull for a group picture.

“Elephant festooned with humans, how disgusting,” Michel scoffed. “It’s so disrespectful.”

There was that word again. It makes me wonder: Are you showing contempt or otherwise demeaning an animal by climbing, sitting, standing, leaning or otherwise not squatting politely behind its horns?

I recall a photo of our greatest modern American president, Theodore Roosevelt, sitting on a rhino. Robert Ruark was photographed with his foot on a buffalo. The cover of Richard Harland’s book, “The Hunting Imperative,” has him lazily reclined atop an elephant. I could go on. There are dozens of examples of famous hunters and PHs in various poses that today, it seems, would be judged to be disrespectful.

I would venture that the classic “foot on trophy” pose was a symbol not of disrespect but of domination. The hunters of yesteryear were proud of their trophies and the hard work it took to earn them. When it came time for a photograph, their inclination was to show the relationship— me hunter, you prey. The triumph of man over beast.

In the early days of safari hunting, picture taking was a major enterprise, unlike today where digital cameras make it all too simple to “snap” dozens of shots. In fact, on the elephant I shot with Mantheakis two months ago, several of the trackers and game scouts took pictures on their cell phones with each posed by my elephant!

Personally, I get a bit bored with all my trophy pictures being the same pose. I realize that the editors of outdoor magazines expect the trophy to be the focus of the picture and by squatting behind the animal, the trophy is more on center stage. However, I don’t think that my attitude toward the animal is reflected by my pose in the picture.

In the case of my recent Tanzanian elephant, no one but me knows that I silently said a prayer for the bull as he lay dead. “Thanks old boy, you lived a good life. Thank you for this hunt and thank you for being such a great part of Africa,” I said to myself as I patted his thick gray hide.

I wasn’t as teary-eyed as I was with my first elephant, but there’s no avoiding a feeling of melancholy when you shoot an elephant. That sadness comes from one thing— respect.

So I don’t really think a pose in a picture means a damn thing. I  clambered up my elephant because it mimicked the images I’d seen in faded black and white images in mildewed, old hunting books. I assure you, I had already paid my respects to my bull before I set a foot on him.

But what do you think? Can a pose be disrespectful? Post a comment below and we’ll take a look at this issue later on.

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12 Responses to Disrespectful Photographs: Two Views

elkslayer wrote:
September 13, 2012

It is not disrespectful. I get tired of the over the top self righteous attitude that many hunters put on today. No doubt as a result of the same displays put on by TV hunting personalities who are trying to appear down-to-earth to their viewers. When I make a kill, i do not thank the animal for it's sacrifice. It didn't sacrifice anything, it didn't walk up to me and offer itself to me because it didn't want to die. I thank our Father in Heaven that he created the animal, for the beauty of my surroundings and for giving me the strength to pursue the animal. Lets not be cultish by directly talkingto a dead animal.

MrTokarev wrote:
March 08, 2012

It's certainly not disrespectful. You don't need to get all weepy and cry over it like some little girl or thank it and pray to it like hunting is some kind of cult. I find that kind of ridiculous over sentimentality to be disrespectful. Even living, the animal wouldn't care about your gratitude or respect. Show some pride and strike a bold pose like a man.

Wolfsbane wrote:
February 18, 2012

Yeah it's disrespectful. I also think the shot of someone straddling a deer holding up the head and grinning like a moron is disrespectful as well. I think a good shot might be kneeling on one knee beside or in front of the animal, a hand on it, head bowed, thanking it solemnly for it's sacrifice might get the idea of what we're about or should be about, across to viewers.

sl1 wrote:
October 28, 2011

nah, there's no disrespect if you sit on the trophy. it's basically: did you intentionally disrespect when you had your pic snapped? are you happy with your pic? if you're satisfied. these are your pics and as long as you like them, then so be it. this world is too pc and way too many people are too touchyfeely and trying to please everybody out there. why? anti-hunters are going to hate your guts regardless and who cares what they think?

Andrew Blair wrote:
October 16, 2011

people are so smeared with there so called is not disrespectful,and im with the hunter on this take a note from history,not from your right wing pita activist,it is a sign of domination.triumph over wild,yes they are great beasts,great trophys.honor yours the way you see fit,and let us honor ours the way we may....besides who are you any way !!

ericb wrote:
June 23, 2011

I am not with the crowd here. I don't think having one's picture taken with the trophy or sitting on it is disrespectful. It is more tradition and commonplace and the photos are how we relive the hunt. There are many other traditions of African hunting that I am sure would be frowned upon even more....most so, the cutting off of the elephant's tail and giving it to the successful hunter. This traditionally shows and proves ownership. I am very surprised the PH reacted the way he did.

Tim wrote:
June 08, 2011

Yes, in this day and time, it is disrespectful to pose on the animal, what with all the anti's and those easily influenced or neutral on the subject of hunting. Also, it looks pretty careless for the hunter to pose with a double rifle pointed at him!!

Robert Clouse wrote:
February 12, 2011

Simple gestures toward another human, such as a curled lip or a sneer, can be perceived as disrespectful. And yes, sitting atop a noble game animal can easily be perceived as disrespectful of the animal.

Jim wrote:
January 29, 2011

I guess I do think it's disrespectful. If your dog became mentally ill and escaped, attacked someone's child, then killed your dog, how would you feel about them taking pictures in various poses with your dog? Also, in the photo above, the rifle seems to be pointing at the person sitting atop the elephant. Regarding times or yore, I'd like to think that we can learn and become better.

John Hesse wrote:
January 29, 2011

Unfortunately by taking the photographs which appear disrespectful or demeaning to the life you've taken you become just another yahoo slaughtering the African wildlife. It does not matter what you did or thought before or after taking the photograph. Show some class man!

Harley McAllister wrote:
January 10, 2011

I do think photos can be demeaning. It is one thing to harvest an animal for food that you use to feed your family - or African families in this case. But the poses you mentioned make it appear that an animal as noble as an elephant is nothing more than something for you to rest on or to use as a footstool. The wild game we hunt has the dignity of being wild, free, and in the case of African ferocious. But all of this is marginalized when, after being killed, it is reduced to something only for people to crawl all over. You don't normally sit or rest your feet on things that you respect, and the same is true of game.

Jim Ball wrote:
December 19, 2010

Yes, climbing atop the downed animal IS disrespectful. You're armed with a .458 (or larger) caliber rifle and other mechanical advantages, and 'Ol' Tusk' has only his wits and instincts. Come on, man - you won. Woo-hoo! Show some class and stay OFF the trophy.