Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Girlfriend's Gotta Gun

I went by Solomon Projects to check out photographer Nancy Floyd's show "She's Got a Gun." I had seen a couple of different images from this series at the ACP Portfolio Walk last year.

"Sharp Shooter Karen Bowker with Smith & Wesson Model 41, Santa Ana, California, 1994,2008"

Floyd, a professor at GSU, started the series in 1993 documenting woman who carry and use firearms under the three specific premises of "pleasure, power, and profession."

The show is in tandem with the release of her book under the same title. The book began as a photography project but as Floyd became more engrossed in the subject it expanded to include a telling of her personal story (she too enjoys the company of a gun) and the history of woman and guns in America since 1850.

This is one of the more odd shots, and for me, one of the more interesting in terms of composition. Or maybe it's just the inclusion of pink couches with a turquoise coffee table covered in guns that makes the word "odd" come to mind, but her living room does tell a larger story.

Katy Grannan, "Ghent, NY" 2000

I was reminded of Katy Grannan's "Model American" series in the similar approach towards taking portraits of people in their intimate environments accompanied by a trace of something askew or incongruous.

"Clair Sherwood with her Guns and her Grandmother's Guilt. Atlanta, Georgia, 1997. Sherwood's firearms: J. Stevens 12- and 20- gauge shotguns, .22- caliber H-D Military, and .22 caliber Wards Western Field no. 484, 2008."

In many ways I think this series reads like a research project or anthropological study. The long titles state the gun specifications in a concise, fact gathering way, and the images omit miscellaneous information not directly related to the woman or her firearm. Floyd also removes herself from these images (as much as any photographer can) and captures a very straight portrait. There is never a sense of Floyd finessing the viewer's interpretation of the subject. Unlike Grannan's work, which is seeped in insinuation, including weighty details that even the model may not be aware of, Floyd stays true to the subject, she is not pulling the strings but simply pressing the shutter (or dare I say, pulling the trigger?), and no doubt representing these women as they wish to be represented.

"Lily Mendoza with .380 Sig Sauer, On Target Shooting Range, Laguna Niguel, California." 1996, 2008.

Floyd's only apparent agenda in her approach towards these subjects is to capture a sense of pride and confidence in their portraits. The woman face the camera with no trace of fear, (the gun working its magic) resolute in their decision not play the victim, perhaps pleased with their own prowess. Floyd does not question the individual's attraction to the firearm within the photograph, but samples a large variety of women who use guns for different reasons (whether professionally or personally), and leaves it up to the viewer to survey the findings and make their own conclusions.
"Eleven-year old Vanessa Noble with 9mm Ruger P89 before her first Practical Shooting competition, On Target Shooting Range, Laguna Niguel, California." 1996, 2008.

There is a certain happy-go-lucky attitude in these images that seems at odds with the fact that these woman are clutching lethal weapons to the bosoms. I grew up in a family of hunters where guns were treated as common place but there was always a lingering hint of danger and need for caution. In many of these photographs the gun becomes a weightless object, held like a toy; a new conversation piece.

This CL cover is pretty hilarious and that's one big gun. There are excerpts from the book included in the article, with different woman explaining their motivations in acquiring a gun.

"Gail with .45 caliber Colt Gold Cup National Match, 1994, 2008"

Gail, Southern California, 1994

"...If trouble comes to me, I don't intend to just sit there or lay there screaming 'help me.' I'm going to grab, as fast as I can, for my loaded weapon. And believe me, I have made up my mind that in order to protect my life I will shoot to kill."

There is a definite element of gender play in these images. In each photograph the gun is held by the subject as if it is an extension of the body. The figure is never looking at the gun directly(acknowledgement of holding a foreign object) but instead the gun blends in, comfortably held in the subject's grip.

These close up, near the crotch, crops in the "Hand Series" hint at a different form of power play being invoked. Beyond photographing soldiers and cops, any woman holding a gun acquires a certain masculine strength that, as these photographs imply, have sexual undercurrents or a motivation to change cultural role playing. After all, Floyd met her group of gun-slingin' compatriots at a "ladies night," a sort of night out in drag, wielding a new weapon, flirting with a new authority. There is a certain sexual attraction to dominance, strength, and risk and these photographs survey a group of woman confident in their assertion of it.

Go check out the show. Up at Solomon Projects until April 12th 2008.
Update: Show extended until May 3rd 2008 with a second artist talk/book signing to take place on Wednesday, April 23rd at 6:30pm.

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