Trophy Photographs

Against the Current, No. 111, July/August 2004

Kevin Cooper

AMERICANS HAVE A fascination with photographs! I remember the very first trophy photograph that I saw. It was a hunter who killed grizzly bear, and he stood there standing over his dead trophy with a proud simile on his face. This was when I was a child and didn’t truly understand the human psychology behind such photographs.

As I grew up I saw thousands of such trophy photographs taken by many different types of Americans, but they all had certain things in common. The people posing in those photographs were all standing over something that they either killed or conquered! They all had a proud and arrogant smile on their face, and they all thought that they were superior to whatever they killed or conquered.

These same smiles can be seen on the faces of the American soldiers who are in the trophy photographs taken in Iraq where Iraqi prisoners are being abused, tortured, humiliated, and dehumanized! They were conquered and then stood over just like they were animals! While this kind of photographing is relatively new, the mindset behind such photographs is not.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus did not have a camera to take trophy photographs of the people he conquered. But if he would have had a camera you can be certain that he and his crew would have taken trophy photographs of the people he destroyed. When slavery was at its highest peak in this country, those slave owners didn’t have a camera either, or they would have also taken their share of trophy photographs as well.

ople doing certain things to other people, but they weren’t necessarily trophy photographs, they were more like documentary photos. It wasn’t until sometime later that the real concept of trophy photographs took off. It took off in such a great way that parties were held, and days off were given. People from within and around a certain community would travel for miles to participate in taking these trophy photographs.

What were these photographs of, you ask? Black men and women being lynched! Black men and women and in some cases their children being raped, burned, castrated, and hung from trees! Many Americans posed next to these tree-hanging people, these pieces of strange fruit so that they could be in a trophy photograph and show everyone just how they dealt with people who they dehumanized, humiliated, conquered! They too had the same sort of self-satisfaction and smile on their faces that the soldiers in Iraq have on their faces!

Yet the U.S. Government along with the mainstream news media continue to act like this policy of torture, abuse, dehumanization, and trophy photo-taking is not the American way! I strongly disagree, and history is the real truth teller, not the government! In Struggle from Death Row at San Quentin Prison, May 17, 2004.

ATC 111, July-August 2004