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.
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.