“reFramed” is a feature showcasing fine art photography and vision-forward photojournalism. It is curated by Los Angeles Times staff photographer Barbara Davidson. twitter@photospice
David Chancellor, who was born in London, works and lives in South Africa. He has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions, exhibited in major galleries and museums and been published worldwide.
Named Nikon photographer of the year three times, he received a World Press Photo Award in 2010 for “Elephant Story” from the series “Hunters.”
Chancellor exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2009, where the following year he won the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize.
In 2011 he was a nominee for the fifth annual Photography Masters Cup, his work was short-listed for the Sony World Photography Organization Award, as well as the Freedom to Create Prize.
In 2012 he received a Sony World Photography Award (Nature and Wildlife) and the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award.
Chancellor has increasingly turned his focus to documenting man’s commodification of wildlife, and in 2012 he released his first monograph, “Hunters,” in which he explores the complex relationship between man and animal, hunter and hunted.
This year he has received the World Understanding Award in the Pictures of the Year International competition, the Kuala Lumpur International Photo Award for portraiture, the Vienna International Photo Award for documentary photography, and the Kontinent Award for documentary photography.
He is represented by INSTITUTE.
Q: Your book “Hunters” examines the subculture of tourist trophy hunters and the complex relationship between man and animal. What inspired you to tell this story?
A: I’m British by birth but currently based in South Africa. When I moved here it was a country full of promise, the “rainbow” nation was shining bright and everybody believed that there truly was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I had worked here a great deal during apartheid, and my intention was to continue documenting the country and its people moving forward, post-apartheid. For several years I traveled the length and breadth of this wonderful country doing exactly that. Then I met a man in a coffee shop who intrigued me; he was a professional hunter. It became clear to me that although we lived in the same country, his experience of it was very different from mine. He lived behind a “high fence” not to keep people out, but to keep wildlife in. I’d spent days traveling along dirt roads outside of these fences; now I wanted to understand what lay behind them. Incidentally he was not going to help me, which intrigued me even more. I began to research the subject and soon realized access was going to be the issue. If I could get access, then I knew it would be a strong project. It took another two years before I found someone who would allow me to document their work.
Q: What are the origins of African hunting safaris? How has that industry evolved in today’s world?
A: At the beginning of the 20th century, East African hunting safaris became a fashionable pursuit among members of the privileged classes, particularly in Britain and the United States. The completion of the Uganda Railway in 1901 provided easier access to the interior highlands of British East Africa (now Kenya), where large game, especially elephants, lions, buffalo and rhinoceros, was plentiful. The British colonial government also turned big-game hunting into a source of revenue, charging the tourists and hunters licensing fees for permission to kill the game animals. In 1909, a UKP 50 hunting license in British East Africa entitled its purchaser to kill 2 buffaloes, 2 hippos, 1 eland, 22 zebras, 6 oryxes, 4 waterbucks, 1 greater kudu, 4 lesser kudus, 10 topis, 26 hartebeests, 229 other antelope, 84 colobus monkeys and unlimited lions and leopards, because these last two, which killed livestock, were classified as “vermin.”
The white hunter served these paying customers as guide, teacher and protector. “White hunter” is a former term used for professional big-game hunters of European or North America backgrounds who plied their trade in Africa. The activity still exists in the African countries which still permit big-game hunting, but the white hunter is now known as the “professional hunter.”
The Southern African hunting industry has grown in recent years, due partly to a major increase in game ranching at the expense of traditional livestock farming.
Q: How were you able to gain access to the hunters and how did you select whom you would photograph? Were any of these clandestine
A: From research, I knew who I wanted to photograph, which professional hunters and also which animals I wanted to look at. For example, every hunter will tell you that hunting and conservation go hand in hand. Every conservationist will disagree. So I set out to find and document an example of this in practice, and that’s CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe. That work resulted in “Elephant Story,” which is included in the back of “Hunters,” along with Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant,” which I’d read as a child and had an enormous effect on me then, as it does now.
It’s impossible to work clandestine, as you put it. I realized very quickly that you need to embed with the hunting party — sleep, eat and breathe the hunt. All the portraits are taken immediately after the hunter has killed. It’s impossible to duplicate that emotion which is ultimately read subliminally by the viewer of the work. Most hunts took plus or minus 10 days, so by the end of the work you had many shared experiences.
Q: As a wildlife lover, did you find yourself conflicted by what you were documenting – the killing of animals for sport?
A: I did … most definitely. I also felt that with the access I’d been given I had a responsibility to try and understand why this was happening and present it in such a way that it didn’t present a conclusion, but simply presented the facts, and as much as possible gave you enough information and space to make your own decision, as far as the ethics of trophy hunting are concerned.
Let me say now, and this may answer all your other questions, when I started this work I thought I’d be appalled by what I saw. I wasn’t sure there would be an audience for it. I wasn’t sure what to expect. From day one I realized that this wasn’t, and isn’t, about the rights and wrongs of hunting. This work is about the commodification of wildlife; here it’s Africa I’m looking at, but it’s by no means exclusive to Africa.
I knew nothing when I started this, and if you’d asked me then if I agreed with hunting I wouldn’t have hesitated in saying that I didn’t. I wouldn’t be as naive as to say that now. In the 1960s, Peter Beard painted a bleak picture of the future of our relationship with Africa’s wildlife in his seminal work “End of the Game”:
“The game is both the hunt and the hunted, the sport and the trophy. The game is killing the game. There was a time when the hunter killed only for his life and food, when wild animals were driven from one area into another instead of being shot or poisoned. Now there are few places left to drive the game. Only 50 years ago man had to be protected from the beasts; today the beasts must somehow be protected from man. The advance of civilization called for the removal of wild game, the central symbol of African life. One page of game control officer J.A. Hunter’s notebook records the shooting of 996 rhinos. Men acted because they had to, no questions asked. Everything seemed inexhaustible. As boundaries are declared with walls and ditches, and cement suffocates the land, the great herds of the past become concentrated in new and strange habitats. Densities rise, the habitats are diminished, and the land itself begins to die. Imbalance is compounded. The white hunter is still with us, though heavily compromised. Once an explorer, he is now a licensed hired hand whose function it is to keep peace in camp and make sure his clients obtain sizable heads and elephant feet suitable for waste baskets … “
What I found with this work was a “wildlife industry” that responds to man’s demands as best it can, and what man demands, he shall have. There are too many of us on the planet. We continue to reduce the space available to wildlife and therefore areas of human-wildlife conflict increase. We choose to “manage” the wildlife — then one of the tools that we have available to us is the utilization of a hunter. It should NOT, however, be the only tool available to us, and needs to be highly regulated. Income generated from hunters can be used for conservation. It’s a given that there are good and bad practices in all fields; I’m simply trying to paint a picture here. If we choose not to hunt, we very quickly have too many animals in too small an area (because we’ve restricted and fenced it) and as Beard explains, the vegetation is eaten before it can regenerate. Predator-prey ratios get out of sync. Elephants try to escape and therefore become classified PA (problem animals) and can be shot. So let’s relocate the animals, which we can do, but the same will eventually happen again, and let’s hope we’re keeping an eye on genetics as we move wildlife around the continent.
The problem here is us and our demands, the conflicts all too often the result of us trying to satisfy those demands, be it pastoral communities looking for additional grazing in areas with lion habitat, or promises made where they can’t be met. In all cases the casualties are the wildlife.
I recently found myself standing next to an angry American berating a game warden: “You promised on your website that we could see ALL the big five in a day. We haven’t seen a lion!! I want my money back … ” The warden started to explain how he had to balance his predator-prey rations and therefore the lion had left. The American wasn’t interested; he just wanted to see his lion.
So in addition demands are placed upon reserves to place species in areas where they didn’t naturally occur so that people can see them all in one place.
We are treating Africa like a zoo. If we do so, we have to accept that we have to manage it in a similar way, and not put up the pretense that it’s wild.
Hunting, if done correctly, will generate income where culling may not; and by the way, it’s vital that if we commodify Africa’s wildlife we give the income to Africans. The only way to stop the continued slaughter of Africa’s wildlife by poachers is to allow Africans to benefit from its survival rather than its death. Kenya is currently doing everything it can to make this happen against an onslaught of poaching, without, of course, incorporating hunting, which they stopped in 1977.
What we have to do is take a 60,000-foot view of the continent; what works in Kenya may not work in the DRC. Taking the fence down between South Africa and Mozambique on paper seemed a good idea (not sure it did actually) but has actually turned out to be a disaster. As a result, rhino poaching has gone through the roof, but South Africa can only tackle the problem from their side of the fence. Wildlife is a finite resource and we have to deal with it globally.
So, you ask, what is the hunter’s perspective on killing these animals?
Some are very well informed and choose to hunt in areas where they believe the communities will benefit. Some just want to kill something. Some have a gap in their trophy room for a particular animal. Some are chasing size. Some rich, some poor, some doctors, some mechanics.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who said, “You can judge a nation by the way it treats its animals.”
I will continue to document both the commodification of wildlife and areas of human-wildlife conflict both in Africa and globally.
Links for David Chancellor: Website Journal INSTITUTE