Photographer As Trophy Hunter

Exploding bright pink blossom, a first sign of spring in Cedar Park, Texas

The other day, I responded to a question posed by the wonderful Andy Adams of Flak Photo fame. Andy had asked the Internet, “I’m reading a book about record collectors, American music, and the
impulse to collect cultural experiences. Naturally, I’m drawing
parallels to our compulsion to make pictures. I wonder, [photographers]: Do you consider yourselves collectors? Is image making like field recording?”

My immediate response was, “I think a lot of photog have bucket lists. You know they want to
shoot…this or that. I have always considered it a more humane
(possibly?) form of trophy hunting but perhaps that’s just me?” I didn’t think it would garner such a response, but it turns out I must have struck a nerve (I mean that in a good way.) A lot of photographers really are trophy hunters in an odd sort of a way. I mean, we do go out into the world with these sort of “bucket lists,” you know what I’m talking about here, things like, “I want to shoot the Statue of Liberty,” or “I want to shoot a canal in Venice,” or maybe, “I want a shot of the Grand Canyon.” The specifics of it don’t matter really, it’s more the notion that we have these bucket lists, of sorts, and we approach the world wanting to check off items on out bucket lists. Once we get said item, and shoot it (with a camera, I’m talking photography here) it’s akin to a trophy hunter killing a large beast with horns. We proudly display the finished product, our image, and it gives us a sense of fulfillment. We feel better about ourselves because we bagged one of our trophies, so to speak. To me, I do think the process is a bit akin to trophy hunting in a roundabout sort of a way, although (perhaps?) fewer animals are killed in the process.

This got me to thinking. Would we be better photographers if we opted to forgo the trophy hunting and instead focus on making the personal statement? Are images made as part of the trophy hunting “process” (if you want to call it that) any better (or worse?) than those made just out of boredom or passion or for whatever other reason we might opt to pickup the camera that day? (Money comes to mind, but there are others too.) I don’t know that there is an easy answer to this, but it’s an interesting question to ponder for a bit.

Speaking personally, I do know that a lot of folks have told me I do better work in the studio-that actually a lot of my “better” work comes when I’m at home, playing around, experimenting really with things about my home studio. I guess maybe I’m free to play in that arena and the pressure of success is a bit off of me there so I’m more freed up and better able to dive in and get better shots? I don’t know for certain, as I’m not even fully convinced I’m better in the studio vs. in the field. These questions do have me thinking along these lines though. It’s an interesting introspection to say the least. I know I too have what one might call photographic “bucket lists” or things I’d love to photograph, people I’d love to shoot (again, with a camera here, although…nah, kidding, kidding. Camera only, folks!) I do tend to think we can get lost in the trophy hunting aspect of photography and maybe, as part of that, lose a little bit of ourselves in the process. I mean, is our artistic voice impacted by this bucket list maintenance and the process of trophy hunting? I would tend to think so but it’s definitely something to ponder a bit more.

Just something to think about a little bit as you might be making travel plans for the year or embarking upon new photographic projects. Are you doing this because you have some desire to check off a box on a list of things you’ve always wanted to do? Or is it more a heartfelt desire to explore a subject more deeply? Photographer as trophy hunter really does seem to be an apt description these days and I’m not entirely sure this is a bad (or good) thing really. Still thinking this one through and thanks to Andy Adams for bringing it to my attention there.

Feel free to drop me a note with your thoughts on this, as I’m curious and open to different opinions here.

Until next time…

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