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You want a photographic freak show? Diane Arbus was the sina qua non of deeply disturbing black and white portraiture. Dwarfs, giants, transgender folk, nudists, circus performers—Arbus’ images are nightmarish in ways that Alfred Hitchcock could only image (but never fully realize). Even when Arbus attempted to take a “normal” photo the result was, shall we say, “compelling.” It’s the same ground that Ben Phillip (above) tries to tread with God Guns Guts. The photographer’s failure is both artistic and political . . .

Judging by the About the Author blurb on Phillipi’s website, it’s clear we’re supposed to take his images of American gun owners at something approximating face value. To wit:

As a professional photographer, journalist and a gun owner, I spent four years traveling to every corner of America photographing proud, unashamed and legal gun owners in a raw unbiased manner.

After meeting many uniquely different people, I can say that America is indeed made from a very special cloth woven from the fibers of God, guns & guts . . .

This book has been a labor of love and passion and I know that you will love it.

Phillipi’s self-portrait reveals his profound disingenuousness. The photographer displays himself as as a piece of bad ass white trash squinting suspiciously at the camera in a bleak, washed-out landscape. His pose is that of a cross-armed dead man. He’s a trigger pull away from asserting his right to answer to no man.

Oh please.

Raw? He wishes. Unbiased? Any artist who uses that adjective to describe his work is either lying or seriously deluded. Besides, the words “uniquely different” tell us the photographer knows many of his subjects are more than slightly odd.

Phillipi reckons that’s OK. He invites us to celebrate their gun-clinging craziness. (Hence the all-caps standard-issue gun rights captions accompanying the images.) Craziness he’s staged for maximum effect.

Exhibit A: many of his “models” hold a Smith & Wesson 686—the same gun in Phillipi’s portrait. How can the author claim quasi-journalistic objectivity when he’s giving gun owners a prop? Talk about a set-up . . .

Exhibit B: Call me cynical, but I don’t think the subject on page 67 said, “I’d like to pose with my AK47 in a partially-filled bathtub in a field in shorts, a tank top, a bandana, a baseball cap and sunglasses. At night. With a fire blazing underneath the tub. Wearing a moronic scowl.”

I’m equally doubtful that the sunglass-wearing woman in the leopard skin one-piece bathing suit (page 91) reckoned she should lie on an America flag on rocky ground pointing two large guns at her vagina. My eight-year-old daughter had a look at Phillipi’s distinctly NSF images of thong-wearing gun toters. “That’s wrong on so many levels,” she remarked. Roger that.

It’s gun porn Jim, but not as we know it. It’s like those X-rated websites where you don’t think it is X-rated, at first, because you’re not wired that way. Nor wish to be. And wonder why anyone is.

While Phillipi includes a number of powerful “straight” images of people holding guns (below), the freak show shots dwarf (so to speak) their impact. There are plenty of posed photos that depict American gun culture as extreme. The redneck wearing a bandolier of bullets pointing a gun skywards with topless women pawing him in front of the rebel flag is a particularly good/bad example.

The artist will no doubt have an artsy fartsy explanation for his work. Some line of logic that would have his distractors believe that he’s dedicated to the Second Amendment heart and soul. To paraphrase the B52’s Planet Claire, WELL HE ISN’T.

As a former British resident alien who suffered through hours and hours of TV programs lampooning American culture (in the way that cruel children make fun of monkeys at the zoo), as a man who cherishes his right to keep and bear arms and the law-abiding citizens who help defend and extend this inalienable right, I’ve had enough of this fatuous firearms fascination.

American gun owners are the backbone of this country. Weirdos? We could Venn diagram this thing, but suffice it to say most Americans “clinging to their guns and bibles” are not freaks. Any book that portrays them as such undermines their dignity and arms enemies of the Second Amendment. To do so while claiming to champion our gun rights is regrettable and, in this case, forgettable.

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  1. Published work shure nuff don’t equal GOOD work. But in spite of whatever technical merit might be exhibited the images themselves are trite beyond belief. Interesting insight into the strange and “loaded” (heh) symbolism that guns represent for the photographer and important to remember that a lot of people have these same distorted views. Where you and I see a tool this photographer sees a shady dream world of sex, power, violence and danger. Not a healthy view for anyone who owns a gun, and detrimental to the public’s perception of those of us who have a different understanding.

    Diane Arbus – A Photographer like Woah! Good reference to brilliant work, if you’re not familiar you owe yourself some quick research.

  2. Dude made a book about interesting people with guns. So what? What a culture of whiners we have become. This is THE American Way. Work hard, risk some money and produce a product. If people like it they will but it. Beats the crap out of taking unemployment or applying for disability.

    • Interesting is an interesting word for the people in this book. Kinda like when your wife wears something hideous and asks you what you think. It’s interesting.

      I’m not saying Mr. Phillipi shouldn’t have created this book. Nor would I suggest that it’s not a labor of love representing a shit load of hard work. I’m simply saying I dislike it. Intensely. YMMV.

      • He could have taken the book in a different direction and openly mocked and verbally assaulted the people in the book.
        True it’s not much of anything but a footnote in the gun debate but considering the output from Hollywood these days it’s rather benign.

    • Thank you Not Too Eloquent. Sometimes I too am afraid that America is soon to be a country of boring sheep who know only what’s available to them in the .99 cent bins at their local Walmart…

      • Ending sentences with an ellipsis instead of a period doesn’t lend any more weight to your statements and only makes you look like a self-important douche.

  3. Since there’s no way in Hell I’m going to buy this book, I won’t actually attack it directly. Even if I can’t criticize it without reading it, I can certainly question it however.

    How many of these photos depict safe, responsible gun handling by ordinary Americans? How many of them show the camraderie of elk camp or Boy Scout camp, or the discipline and skill of a professional shooting team? And how many of them show actual gang-bangers or felonious rural scumbags fondling their hardware? I’m guessing not many, since it would be easy to prosecute any convict felon stupid enough to pose with an actual gun. So much for realism, I suppose.

    Now how many of them show oddly-dressed models in bizarre or surreal or repulsive settings, demonstrating irresponsible gun-handling and flaunting extremist politics? What’s the ratio of realistic photos to staged bulshit? I’m not attacking the book, I’m just wondering.

    • 32 Arbus-like shots, 55 documentary-style images. Giving the author the benefit of the doubt.

    • Where is the rule that says gun photos have to match your definition of what gun photos should depict. Who cares if their finger is on the trigger other that the safe gun police? These are just pictures. Nobody got hurt. Appears not just the gun-grabbers have control issues.

      • The cure for speech with which we may disagree is not censorship: it’s more speech like ours, pointing out hypocrisy and inaccuracies.

        Please feel free to quote me anywhere I’ve called for censorship; this isn’t about ‘control,’ it’s about setting the record straight when it comes to guns.

        • And my point is your version of “the record” ain’t everybody else’s version of the record. Your version of “control” is not through censorship, it is through high-minded public criticism. Leave us alone to enjoy the pictures for ourselves without making us feel like morons for doing so. These pictures aren’t illegal or immoral and I won’t be criticized as an unsafe piece of white trash for enjoying them.

  4. I’m not really getting why the author’s picture above deserves the monikor “white trash”. Even the Northeasterner gun dudes show that haughty Northesterner liberal better-than-thou garbage.

  5. I’ve been a photographer for a little over 40 years, about half of which people actually paid me money to take pictures for their publications. Somewhere during that time, I remember reading an apt statement by a well known and respected photographer (but I don’t remember who right now). I can’t recall the exact quote but it was something like, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp photograph with a fuzzy concept.”

    I haven’t seen this book but, if the pictures posted here are good examples, it surely wins the Fuzzy Concept award.

  6. Robert, thanks for the review. I’m proud of my book and the photos are amazing. This book is about an attitude and I think you’re missing it. There’s a part of America that has not become watered down and dull. Fuck you if you don’t like it. I stand behind it. God Bless (Wild and Free) America.

  7. I bought the book, loved it, I think some of those photographs belong in Art Galleries as fine art prints. I liked it so much and see a new talent, I am considering taking the book to some Art Gallery owners in LA to see if they would put some prints on the wall. Philippi is right in there with Arbus in documenting the different and bizarre aspects of a sub culture and the bizarre is certainly there without question, we have the proof, the artist took a photo of it, I doubt it took much coaxing to get that guy into the tub. I think there is way too much protest here, what is that cliche about protesting too much? One wouldn’t expect a friendly review from those that are in denial of real aspects their own sub culture. Then again, that is exactly what art is supposed to do, create a few cracks so the light can shine in. One thing Philippi’s photography does by contrast is to expose the gun world’s public relations ultra sharp concepts for what they are. There it is, Philippi presents it, GOD, GUNS and GUTS as it is, machine guns, silencers, bizarre, with warts and all, face it, it is what it is.

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