One day while looking through a family photo album, I came across a photograph of my uncle in an orange vest, holding the antlers of a six-point buck that he had just shot with a rifle. I was both repulsed and fascinated.
I became interested in studying hunting trophy images because they collectively present a visual index of an American ideology that traces our cultural history. Hunting trophy photographs comprise an archive of animal objectification and act as an affirmation of human dominance over the natural world. The photograph itself is a tool of power, just as the weapon used to kill the animal is a tool of power. The critic Susan Sontag writes, “Recently photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex or dancing – which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.” Hunters use photography to document their dominance over the animal and visually codify their relationship to the natural world.
The images in my erased hunter series are appropriated images, found on the internet, in which I have removed the hunter from each photograph. The erasure of the hunter is intended to change the focus from the hunter and place it on the animal, reversing the roles of importance within the image. The animal is left suspended between life and death, a state of being that only the medium of photography can provide. The absent space in the image that the hunter once occupied represents a set of invisible codes and assumptions whose power is always felt but never seen. My work investigates these latent cultural codes and re-creates the narratives within the images.
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