When Margaret LeJeune set out to photograph female hunters, she knew she wanted to avoid stereotypes and show the women as individuals.
"I didn’t want to make sensational photographs of blood and the kill. I’ve seen images like that of women hunters, where they’re field-dressing deer. I didn’t want to repeat things that had already been done," she said.
So she decided to capture the women at home or at their hunting lodges instead. This, she writes in a description of her series, allows for a more intimate portrait and “questions the relationship between the domestic sphere, traditionally the women’s place, and the hunting world, typically a masculine realm.”
The idea for her series, “The Modern-Day Diana” (a nod to the Roman goddess of the hunt), came about in 2007, while LeJeune was teaching a photography course at Lyon College in Arkansas. She had assigned her students to shoot a self-portrait—and of the 11 students in her class, seven came back with photos of themselves hunting.
LeJeune, who grew up in upstate New York, says she had never been submerged in a hunting culture before. But when she discovered how important it was to so many of her students, she decided she wanted to find a way to connect with them and their culture. To that end, LeJeune asked a few of her students if she could take their photos. Many were hesitant, so LeJeune started making cold calls to local gun clubs. There, too, she met suspicion.
"There was a little bit of, ‘Are you PETA? Are you anti-gun? What are you?’ " she said.
But eventually LeJeune managed to make her first portrait, and in future correspondences she sent that one along so others would know what kind of photographs she wanted to take. After that, her series started to take off.
Over the years, the project has taken her to 15 states—from Utah to Pennsylvania to Texas. And it has sent her into the homes of hunters of all ages—some in their mid-60s, others still children (many of them united by their involvement with DIVA WOW, a network for female hunters).
What she’s discovered, LeJeune says, is that these women don’t fit one profile. She’s met women who learned to hunt during childhood and those who started later in life in order to spend more time with their husbands. Some hunt big game in Africa and decorate their homes with large pelts and mounts while others keep their guns discretely in the same room in which they do their sewing.
LeJeune continues to fight suspicion about her series. She says it’s often a challenge to show to her subjects that she’s genuinely interested in the culture, and that she’s looking to document rather than editorialize. On one occasion, a woman wouldn’t let LeJeune into her home to photograph her unless she tried a piece of homemade venison jerky (which LeJeune says was ultimately “pretty tasty”). Another time, she endured the stench of a thawing deer head for six hours while photographing under hot lights.
But once she’s communicated her commitment and her intentions, LeJeune said, her subjects prove friendly and welcoming.
"They understand that there are generally stereotypes" LeJeune said. "They’re excited that someone is interested in showing the diversity of different women."