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Massachusetts is a famously liberal state. So mounting a photography show about guns right in the Fort Point arts district of Boston is not only provocatively subversive, but irresistible. Curator Maja Orsic was drawn to the theme because of its current and growing relevance, hoping it would attract a wide audience to “The Gun Show”, part of Flash Forward Festival in Boston last week. The specter of controversy could only heighten curiosity. It did for me.
Guns mean so many different things to people that it was hard to imagine accomplishing a cohesive message in a show featuring only thirteen New England photographers. But a point is made: guns are everywhere in America. In a skillfully curated and executed exhibit, a gamut of photographs from the 1950’s to the present tells a compelling story of America’s love affair with guns. The presentation is diverse, reflecting a broad range of views around gun possession.
With humor and horror, the images in “The Gun Show” depict the pride of gun ownership, the undeniable power guns confer upon their users and how remarkably oblivious we are to the ubiquity of guns in every aspect of our lives. Brian Ulrich’s gigantic 1954 B&W photograph of antique gun traders in Chicago emanates pure glee (feature image), just as Bill Burke’s bedroom couple in “Larkey and Geraldine” and the Jim Dow’s “Annie Oakley Painting” declare unadulterated pride.
The expansive presence of firearms is surprising not only geographically, but also in the age and gender of the gun handlers. Cig Harvey’s “The Duck Hunt, Annemarie and Moose” and Alejandra Carles-Tolra’s “Powers Sleeping” shows that girls play with guns, too. The soft golden glow and silky manes in Harvey’s image contrast with a rocky bed and gunmetal, while the military fatigues that “Powers” wears are starkly offset by her luscious skin and lips. Humanizing juxtapositions jump out of Claire Beckett’s images from her series “Simulating Iraq (2008)” in which American soldiers don Arabian head wraps, cloaks and AK-47 rifles with striking uncertainty.
Children with guns offer an interesting counterpoint to the other images in this show. Karl Baden’s photographs drive home the innocent integration of guns into early childhood, leaving viewers the option of either complacency or alarm. Brian Kaplan’s “Guoda” and Camilo Ramirez’s “Water Gun” affirm the stealth incursion of guns into mainstream play with colorful nerf and water guns offered up rest stops along U.S. highways.
Some of the photographs selected for this exhibit are intentionally about guns while others only incidentally include them. This unique approach serves to expand the conversation beyond the divisive issue of gun control toward a less polarized, more inclusive interpretation. The photographs in this show are remarkable for the ways in which they can challenge, frighten and even amuse viewers. But the arts have always played a critical role in addressing tough issues. And I can say this, it made my day.
For more information and directions, go to: http://www.flashforwardfestival.com/exhibition/the-gun-show/
Feature Image: “Antique Gun Traders, Chicago, 1954/ 2013” from the series Great Prosperity by Brian Ulrich (courtesy of the artist)