When the Hunters Become the Hunted

Originally published on Bokeh on 07 August 2015

Since the recent killing of Cecil the lion, the searing spotlight of the internet has never shone stronger on the plight of “trophy animals” in Africa, and the people who choose to hunt them.

Walter Palmer, the dentist from Minnesota who initially shot Cecil with a crossbow, will probably never be allowed to forget the 40 hours that he spent tracking the wounded lion before he finished off the big cat with his rifle.

But while Cecil’s killing has opened the eyes of many around the world to this oddly persistent colonial practice, safari hunts haven’t been entirely under the radar.

“Professional hunter with trophy lion, Kalahari, Northern Cape, South Africa” by David Chancellor / The Guardian

Over the past seven years, British photographer David Chancellor has already been interviewing and shooting the hunters themselves; in his extensive photo essay on the subject, he presents his images neutrally, allowing the photographs to reveal their own stories.

Chancellor recently spoke to The Guardian about his series, mentioning that the process photographing the images and meeting modern-day hunters was “profoundly disturbing”.

“Professional hunter and son, Eastern Cape, South Africa” by David Chancellor / The Guardian

“Today’s hunters are hedge fund managers, doctors, attorneys, their wives and children.”

Bloodied hunter # IV with buck, South Africa by David Chancellor / The Guardian

“It’s such a divergent cross-section: some are meek-mouthed, some are forthright. Some will cry when they’ve shot an animal, some will pray. Some will drink beer or smoke a cigar. The only thing they have in common is the complete focus on what they’re doing. They don’t doubt it at all.”

“Leopard hunter in Namibia” by David Chancellor / The Guardian

“I wanted to discover the people who do this legally. As soon as I started looking into it, I was knocked over by the huge amount of revenue this industry makes.”

“Hunter with giraffe, Ladysmith, South Africa” by David Chancellor / The Guardian

“I’ve photographed people who have hunted animals in the most callous way who are heart surgeons. I photographed one man, an extraordinarily prolific hunter, who ran a pet cemetery business back home.”

“Hunter with springbok # I, Eastern Cape, South Africa” by David Chancellor / The Guardian

“(Generally) the huntresses were different to the male hunters. They would often spend a lot more time with the animals, both before and after the kill.”

“Hunter, nyala, skinners, Eastern Cape, South Africa” by David Chancellor / The Guardian

“Many of the people who come to hunt have a place ready for their trophies in their homes, long before they even arrive in Africa. They have expectations–and they must be met.”

“Novice hunter, cell phone and blesbok, Eastern Cape, South Africa” by David Chancellor / The Guardian

“I think some difficult clients put (professional wardens) in very difficult positions, but I didn’t find a group of guys slaughtering animals left and right. Many of them had a very powerful relationship with their environment.”

“Xhosa huntsman with lynx # I, South Africa” by David Chancellor / The Guardian