Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Huntress at Fourteen

This award winning picture by David Chancellor has cause something of a stir. It shows a 14 year old girl from Alabama named, Josie Slaughter, returning home from a hunt in South Africa with her kill, a young buck, across her horse.

Chancellor calls it 'Huntress With Buck' and entered it successfully in the National Portrait Gallery Awards in London where it won the prestigious Taylor Wessing Prize, worth £12,000.

David spent two days with the family on their hunt and the Gallery director, Sandy Nairne, says of the shot, "It's a powerful and beautiful portrait; a worthy winner amidst a strong international submission."

Chancellor explains the shot; "The contrast between the peace and tranquillity of the location, plus Josie's ethereal beauty and the dead buck, was what I wanted to explore. Here was a vulnerability and yet also a strength."

However, inevitably, there are those who disagree.

Speaking to CBS News one viewer says, "Too bad about the buck. But some rich people like killing trophy animals. It's what they do for distraction."

Another bites "It's appropriate that her last name is Slaughter." And so on.

The Gallery issued a reply; "The Gallery acknowledges that the portrait does portray an emotive subject. The role of the documentary photographer is to be objective and neither celebrate nor condone the subject."

The moral choice, surely, is for or against the hunters, the Slaughter family in this instance. You may agree or disagree with blood sports and the raising of your children as part of it. Britain's royal family ritualistically 'blooded' all their kids with fox blood at an early age. Hunting is one of the two oldest professions on earth, but it's a personal choice and it's legal.

But what David Chancellor is doing is being an observer, a recorder of events, albeit a very talented one. His presence didn't create the kill, it would have happened without him. We presume that was what the family were there at a hunt venue for.

Many years ago, when I was picture editing the Daily Express, my photographer, the legendary Bill Lovelace, came across a public execution in Bangla Desh. A large mass of locals were gathered to witness the bayonetting to death of three locals condemned as 'spies.' Bill and an AP cameraman recorded the horrific scenes. The picture spread in the Express caused uproar with Lovelace being accused of inciting the killings, which he did nothing of the sort.

A photographer's job is as a fly on the wall. Don't incite and don't interfere.

Well done, David Chancellor. A very evocative and thought provoking picture. It's up to the rest of us to make judgements about it's content.

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