Who Wants to Shoot an Elephant?

Over the summer, GQ published “Who wants to shoot an elephant?” The first-person narrative follows journalist Wells Tower as he accompanies a Texan couple to Botswana on an elephant hunt. The story is fascinating even as Tower examines statistics on elephant populations and describes — in detail — how an elephant is dismantled. The presentation of the story is seemingly simple when compared to the examples we have been looking at in class and recent trends. Most single-story sites use as many platforms as they can, but this website is centered around the text and mostly uses National Geographic-caliber photographs to help tell the story. One of my favorite parts of the presentation is the opening animation, which shows the head of an elephant before it’s erased and the title of the story appears. It’s beautiful and eerie giving the reader a taste of what’s to come. Similar animation is used at the beginning of each chapter in lieu of a drop cap. Screenshot of the opening animation of an elephant Each chapter begins with an image, and there are usually 1-2 more throughout depending on the length of that particular section. These photos transition from black-and-white to color as you continue to scroll which adds emphasis. The website also includes two picture slideshows; one showcases other animals the group encounters on the hunt and the other shows how the elephant is harvested. The latter accompanies Tower’s explanation of this process in text. When you first see a photograph, it is black and white. Once you have scrolled far enough, the photograph appears in color. Other elements of the website include sidebars, pull quotes and a graphic showing the geographic distribution of elephants in Africa. The sidebars and pull quotes add additional information and grab the reader’s attention by incorporating the color red to contrast the otherwise black-and-white presentation. While the three-part graphic does provide good information, it animates automatically and is a little difficult to follow if you aren’t paying close attention. In the last chapter, there is also an audio interview between Tower and his editor at GQ to hear more details about the hunt and the reporting process. This graphic shows the geographic distribution of elephants in Africa from 1995 until 2007. Overall, the website is easy navigable by scrolling or selecting chapters from the top of the screen, both of which are common for multi-part articles. The topic of the site is clear from the beginning animation as well as the headline and story summary that directly follow. The limited color scheme and animation correspond with the somber theme of the story while adding interest. However, the site is sometimes slow to load and the large size of the presentation can lead to additional scrolling in order to read the sidebars. Additionally, the length of the audio interview with Tower is not included which could be a deterrent for some readers if they don’t have enough time or are not interested in listening for more than a couple minutes. -Adrienne Donica


3 thoughts on “Who Wants to Shoot an Elephant?

  1. I thought the subject matter was interesting, and the way they used black and white photos that gradually colorized, as well as GIFs of swirling shapes lent the story an eeriness that you mentioned earlier. Even if GQ didn’t want to take a stand on whether hunting elephants was ethical or not, they definitely wanted to make you feel uncomfortable about the subject matter. I agree that the lack of color did also give the site a very serious tone. I’m glad they didn’t go overboard on the use of red, which can be easily abused when attempting dramatic effect. I feel like using red would have been blatantly making a statement against elephant hunting. A neutral color palate kept them away from that.

    One thing I didn’t like very much was the empty space when scrolling. I realize that they couldn’t have filled every pixel with information, but having large portions of text justified to the left while the rest of the site is needlessly divided into lines. The effect is just ugly.
    The site overall was easy to navigate (simply scrolling or clicking on the chapters at the top of the page), but it could have been a lot more aesthetically pleasing if they had centered the text so that it wasn’t squeezed into a long column, and wrapped the images and quotes within the text. The piece didn’t have the sophisticated feel GQ was trying for, but they could have with a few tweaks.


  2. This piece has been on my to-read list for months, so I’m glad I finally had an excuse to sit down with it. I think the color scheme of the site was bleak and effective (Lizzie, I agree that the sparing use of red was a good choice) and the animated elephant head in smoke was a perfectly eerie start to the package. I didn’t love the use of the smoke GIFs in place of drop caps though, because I feel like they didn’t really add anything to each section.

    I’m glad the photos in this piece were as large as they were, but I was initially confused as to whether or not the photos I was scrolling past delineated the end of the section (they didn’t). It might have been nice to try to make the photos at the beginning of each section look more visually different than the ones that did lead the sections.

    One of my favorite components of the story was the elephant skinning slideshow. It helped me visualize the process, and it was nice that it was timed because clicking things gets old. I felt like the amount of time spent on each photo was just the right amount. Adrienne, I agree that the graphic felt a little rushed though.

    I had a really great time with the writing of this piece, and I feel like the multimedia elements were well-placed. The pictures of celebrities with related trophy kills made for interesting sidebars and the right aligned placement made them unobtrusive.


  3. I find it really interesting that GQ did this story at all and quite frankly was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the work produced. As you said the photos are on par with National Geographic standards and the design of the project as a whole is (mostly) elegant.

    That being said, there were things that could have been done better. The irregular column lines that run throughout the entire work are distracting and purposeless. They take away from the content rather than contributing to it. Side bars and pull quotes are great but when there aren’t sidebars the design looks awkward because the text only exists in the left-most column.

    I do quite like the fade-into-color animation on the photos as you scroll through the story. It is subtle but enough of an action to make you want to spend more time looking at the photo. This is particularly effective because these photos are essentially section headers and this breaks up the pace.

    I also agree with you both that the “auto play” on the graphic wasn’t a great choice. Interactivity and animation can be a really positive addition to graphics but should serve a purpose. In this case it felt as though the automatic animation was rushing through information. Similarly the mini video at the beginning of each section with the letter written in liquid and then blotted out is a very odd choice. I find it off-putting because it doesn’t have a clear function and is therefore confusing. It took me a while before I realized it was just the first letter of the following paragraph.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s