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.