The Trophy Image

25 Aug

This short series of photographs were made in Cefn Mabley near Cardiff, I had set out to explore the idea of the trophy image, a record, maybe an artless snapshot or more formal and consciously lit, of a personal moment of triumph. The fishermen portrayed are justly proud of their catch; the photograph becomes a distillation of the whole experience, the object that is accepted by all as evidence of the moment. The fact is the fish no longer exists, only the image of the fish, the moment has passed and only can exist in the physical make-up of the photograph. Roland Barthes suggests “What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially. As soon as the click of the shutter has occurred, what is photographed no longer exists; subject is transformed into object and even into a museum object”.

trophey portraitConsidering further the concept of ‘The Trophy’ related to countryside pursuits, historically it was socially acceptable to have your ‘kill’ prepared by taxidermy for presentation on the wall or in a case. The trophy became something in perpetuity to admire and of tangible value. A wider historical view would see Victorians and Edwardians using museum trophy cases and displays to show off their latest catch; finds that illustrated the ‘Grand Tour’, especially de rigueur for higher society. As photography became more accessible capturing and preserving ‘The Moment’ in a photograph steadily replaced the need for the physical artefact. The photograph became the object of desire, the trophy itself. Photography has become omnipresent over the last 100 years, the mediums ability to record every moment has to some degree undermined the concept of the trophy image. How can that big catch now be so important when everybody else has a similar story? Everyday triumphs are less admired by the majority and have become the realm of image files stored on mobile phones, only displayed on screen never to see a wall or album; the virtual trophy case. The photographic idea of trophy is now often wrapped in celebrity, the happenstance or predetermined encounter with a famous person, the quick snap to preserve the moment and show to friends. The image confirms the individual’s personal position as a trophy, someone who met so-and-so and thus is worth knowing. The Victorian hunter posing with the kill to illustrate power and success held the same message and helped to confirm the individuals’ position in a hierarchical   society. Recent mobile phone technology has further evolved the notion of the trophy image; the self-congratulatory nature of ‘Selfies’ further underlines the narcissistic nature of contemporary photography’s relationship with modern society.

With this portrait project I want to return the Victorian value afforded the trophy image, consciously and carefully crafting an image to preserve and reflect a personal moment of glory, a small victory, the birth of a baby or scaling a mountain, the photograph will be the memento.

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