Edward Mendes: How did you shoot that – The thrill of the hunt
Here in the United States we just finished celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday which got me thinking. A number of years ago I was sitting around a picnic table with some of my wife’s extended family, we were chatting and the conversation eventually turned to hunting and a recent trip they had taken to Africa. As their African tale began a stack of pictures were circulated around the large wooden table in which we were sitting. One picture after another passed through my hands each recording one of their many “trophies”, Father with a dead lion, son with a dead Hyena, dad with a fallen Zebra; the animal in each image changed but the pictures were really all the same, big smile, big gun, big dead animal.
If you just saw the pictures you may have a vision in your head of a father and son roaming the African plains fighting for their lives against man eating killers, what emotion, how brave… how far from the truth. The actual story is much different as the animals are caged and released for paying tourist to shoot, pose with and later taken home as trophies. The “hunters” sit in the back of a truck and guides help them spot the animals from a safe distance.
While their stories were being told the youngest of the hunters continued to tell us “They’d kill us if we didn’t kill them.” but I couldn’t help but think this isn’t a hunt, it’s a fish in a barrel game and a somewhat sad one at that. These animals don’t fight back, they’re released a few hundred yards away and you shoot them from or near a vehicle, usually before they even see you, you even pick the animals off a menu before you even go out for the day.
How different it is to look at the world as a photographer. Over the last few years I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit Grand Teton National Park and experience the large herds of Bison that call the park home. On my first visit to the park I was photographing the famed Mormon row barns when I noticed what looked like hundreds of brown mounds in the distance. As my sunrise session at the barns concluded I hopped back in the car and slowly made my way up the road in the general direction of these mounds, some of which were now moving. What was awaiting me was unlike anything I had experienced up to that time, hundreds of Bison and calves surrounding what was now my stopped vehicle. Within a few minutes I was completely surrounded by these large intimidating beasts and close enough to almost touch them. I knew I had to take a few images, I got out of the car and made my way back to my equipment, as I put on my 120mm lens I just hopped it would be enough.
Making my way into multiple positions over the course of a few minutes I lined up my shot and waited for just the right moment…snap, snap, snap, a mother and her calf nestling, I turned to my left, snap, snap, snap, a single bison framed with Grand Teton behind it, one shot after another was falling into my sights. I worked every angle I could until the sun rose too high and the lighting was no longer ideal.
When I got back to the cabin I downloaded my images and with a big smile on my face took a look at my “trophies”, big ones, small ones, heck I even got some babies. The bison were beautiful and the chance to get this close to them is something few people get a chance to do. As I think again about those images from Africa and the extremes my distant in-laws had to go just to feel some excitement I’m very thankful that I do my hunting with a camera and not with a gun, that when I go out to seek the beauty of nature I do so with my eyes looking for life not death. As photographers we have the ability to feel close to the wonders of the world and to do so without having it’s blood on our hands and it’s head on our walls and that’s something I’m thankful for.
© Mendes Edward – All Rights Reserved