Animal Studies Bibliography

Kalof, Linda and Amy Fitzgerald. 2003. Reading the trophy: Exploring the display of dead animals in hunting magazines. Visual Studies 18(2): 111-121.
(Summarized by Molly Tamulevich, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)

Reading the trophy focuses on the cultural implications of how hunters display the dead animals they refer to as ‘trophies. Images are not simply images. They are discourse that “produce multi-layered cultural messages” (111). By examining the ways in which animals killed for sport are treated in pictures, it is possible to gain a larger understanding of animals in our society.

Historically, displaying dead animals has been linked to domination and patriarchy ( 112). The largest collections of dead animals on display have been in museum dioramas and in collections of hunting photographs. Often, these collections attempt to make the dead animals appear as lifelike as possible by staging them in tableaus (or in the case of one trophy hunter, stuffing grass into the mouth of a dead deer). In home settings, body parts are “ allowed to stand in for everyday objects” ( 113) such as waste baskets, footrests and fly swatters. They are also used for home decoration, rugs and jewelry. Looking at images of animal death and display reinforces the nature/culture divide and retells the story of animal lives by manipulating their bodies into scenes that fit the human narrative of nature.

Trophy photography has been used since the 1850s to document ‘successful’ hunts and capture images of hunters with their trophies. Hunting has been called “ a necessary experience of manhood” (114), and photographic proof of a hunter’s killing ability is now an important component of the activity. Hunting magazines are the venues in which hunters can display their prowess. It is noted in the study that there are several editing processes that photos much go through in order to be included in the magazines: hunters must first select the images they feel best represent themselves and then the editors of the magazines must make their final selection.

The study was conducted by reviewing all photographs of dead animals appearing in the March 2003 editions of all hunting magazines available at a specialty book store. Photographs were only included if they included dead animals ( making it difficult to include many pictures of fish). Multiple dead animals in one photo were counted individually, but the same photo in multiple magazines was only counted once. 792 animals were counted in 14 magazines.

The vast majority of humans in the photos were white males and the vast majority ( 53.7%) of dead animals were deer. When women were pictured, only half of them were photographed with their weapons. “Less than 2% of the hunters were identifiable minority men, and there were no minority women” (116) . When a white male was present, neither women nor minorities were photographed holding a weapon.
When displaying the dead bodies, hunters took care to emphasize the size of certain animals and photograph them in more lifelike positions. Large cats, bears and other predators were stretched out, often along the hunter’s body as if demonstrating the size disparity between hunter and hunted. Less intimidating animals such as bobcats and foxes (varmints) were shown upsidown and unarranged, haphazardly slung over the barrel of a rifle. The images convey thevalue of the animal by the amount of arrangement put into the staged photograph. Often, a hand was placed on the body, dominating it even in death.

While claiming that they hunt animals out of respect, the dismemberment, posing and display of dead animal bodies indicates that hunters, in fact, objectify and degrade the animals they hunt. The value placed on certain body parts and dominant stances over the bodies draws parallels to sexist attitudes towards women. The contradiction between the live animals on the cover of hunting magazines and the dead animals filling the pages indicates that trophy hunting is a way for white men to overpower nature in the most permanent way: by killing it.


Visit the Michigan State University Homepage Return to the Animal Studies Homepage