King's College London
Online Exhibitions
Representing the unfamiliar: Photography in the British Empire 1866-1938

Hunting with the camera

Photograph showing a rhinoceros of the Masai charging in the long grassPhotograph showing a rhinoceros of the Masai charging in the long grassA Samburu Masai and her donkey carrying a loaded packA Samburu Masai and her donkeyHunting, both for commercial and sporting purposes, was a notable feature of British imperialism in East Africa. In the late 19th century the European demand for ivory remained very high, spurring on aggressive hunting of the region’s elephant population.

In this period, colonial administrators such as Sir Frederick Lugard (1858-1954) made use of elephant hunting as a means of funding military campaigns.

Lugard himself, later to become the originator of the term ‘indirect rule,’ and a prominent Governor of Nigeria, began his colonial career as an elephant hunter for the African Lakes Company before joining the East Africa Company.

There was a direct link between the hunting of animals and colonial service. Historian John Mackenzie has even suggested that ‘killing game prepared Europeans for and inured them to the killing of Africans.’

Given the popularity of East African hunting, combined with the fear of destroying its wildlife, there were increased calls at the turn of the century to bring in legislation to help the preservation of East African fauna.

Legislation was introduced. Nonetheless, hunting continued throughout the Edwardian period, but was instead limited and promoted to European elites. These restrictions were very profitable for East African colonial administrations and spawned an industry to cater for the needs of the elite hunter.

Photograph showing the setting of three camerasPhotograph showing the setting of three camerasPhotograph showing a Likipia lion, lying downPhotograph showing a Likipia lionHunting as an elite sport was further popularised through publications and photography. The work of Major Cotton Powell (1866-1940), who undertook a trip to the region, is littered with references to his hunting practices both figuratively and visually. Reproduced below is a photographic example of one of his ‘trophies’, a Likipia lion.

Yet a by-product of the preservationist drive was the phenomenon of ‘hunting with the camera’ where the camera acted as a substitute for the gun. Hunting terminology was translated into the art of ‘hunting with the camera.’

Trophies became photographs of living animals, not their carcasses. The process still involved the tracing and tracking of animals, culminating in ‘shooting,’ them with a camera lens, rather than a gun.

American photographer A Radclyffe Dugmore was a proponent of this new ‘sport’ taking great pride in his trophies of animal reproductions, particularly of his nocturnal shots of a lioness, pictured here.

Yet ‘hunting with the camera,’ was not strictly safe for animals either. When taking a photo of a rhinoceros, supposedly only ‘at a distance of 15 yards.’ Dugmore’s companion had to promptly shoot it to avoid harm coming to the party.

Link to King's College London catalogue records:

A Radclyffe Dugmore. Camera adventures in the African wilds. London: William Heinemann, 1910

PHG Powell-Cotton. In unknown Africa. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1904

ARCHIOS™ | Total time:0.1960 s | Source:database | Platform: NX