Portfolio: David Chancellor

 

They might be reminiscent of 19th-century daguerreotypes of huntsmen posing with their spoils, but these portraits of trophy-hunting tourists were taken in 2008. And rather than colonial aristocracy, today's hunters are more likely to be hedge-fund managers on a family holiday. It's probably not your idea of fun, but 18,500 tourists (mainly Americans and Europeans) go big-game hunting in Africa every year.

David Chancellor, born in London but now based in South Africa, accompanied these hunters on trips throughout sub-Saharan Africa, spending up to 12 days at a time camping in the bush with them.

"Huntress with Buck" (pictured), which won the 2010 Taylor Wessing prize, captures American teenager Josie Slaughter's first African kill. "I spent two days documenting her hunt and got nothing. But that day she rode back into camp on horseback just as the light cleared from under the clouds, minutes before it went dark. She was flushed and elated; it seemed almost like a first sexual experience for her."

"Leopard Hunter #2" (see gallery) is perhaps more disturbing, especially to a nation of moggy-huggers like us. "People are either enthralled or disgusted by my work," admits Chancellor. "Some take it out of context and ask, 'Why are you glorifying this?' But trophy-hunting happens and I'm just documenting it."

Although, as Chancellor discovered, it's not always easy to make a moral judgement. "When I started, I thought I'd be appalled but I came to realise that you can't possibly fence off large areas of Africa and expect the game to live there without controlling them in some way.

"I wouldn't say I walked away from it all thinking, now I understand why someone wants to shoot an elephant, but there is an argument that conservation and hunting go hand in hand."

Chancellor's next work will examine a different side of the wildlife industry – the safari, where guns are swapped for cameras and the price put on the animals' heads is entirely for their pull as tourist attractions. "I'm interested in exploring the complex relationship between man and animals," he says, "and how we're both struggling to adapt to a changing environment."

'Hunters' by David Chancellor (Schilt Publishing, £32.50) is out tomorrow. An exhibition of the project is at the Jack Bell Gallery, London SW1, from Wednesday to 10 November

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