By Robert MacPherson / AFP
All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, the New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard once said. It’s also the formula for a best-selling book of portraits of American women and the guns in their lives.
Saucily titled but seriously presented, “Chicks with Guns” is going into its third printing, after selling about 12,000 copies since its October 1 release — and no-one is more surprised than the photographer herself.
“I’m absolutely astonished, and actually slightly perplexed,” Lindsay McCrum told AFP by telephone from San Francisco. “‘Publishers don’t want photography books’: I was told that repeatedly.”
Coffee-table books are indeed a niche market, typically selling a couple of thousand copies at best to lovers of fine art photography. Then again, they rarely get glowing reviews from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“Chicks with Guns” features more than 80 women of all ages, mostly from the southern and western states, posing with their coveted pistols, rifles and shotguns, often in pastoral settings reminiscent of a Gainsborough landscape.
Many are hunters. Others are police officers or skeet shooters. Some keep a pistol by their beds for protection. None fit the comic-book stereotype of a bikini-clad pin-up sexing it up with a sub-machine gun.
Alongside the images are a few words from the subjects themselves. A surprising number fondly recall how their affection for guns was passed onto them by their fathers, grandfathers and, less frequently, their husbands.
“I got interested in hunting because Dad is my hero,” says Laura of Livingston, Montana, pictured in a Stetson hat, leather chaps and a Winchester Model 94 carbine, with the snow-capped Rocky Mountains off in the distance.
Beguiling in a red ballroom gown outside her gated residence, with a Belgian-made Auguste Francotte 20-gauge shotgun on her lap, Windi of Houston, Texas confesses: “I never wear perfume, but I love the smell of cordite.”
“Look, I’d rather die defending myself than be a victim,” says Lake, bound to a wheelchair since childhood, gazing out the window of her rural California home with a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum and pet Chihuahua in her hand.
Who are these people?
McCrum, a Connecticut native with no previous interest in guns, embarked on the project after a January 2006 article in the Economist magazine about a surge in the number of women hunters in America caught her eye.
“There’s nothing dress-up. This is very authentic. This is very much who these people are,” said McCrum, who used a Mamiya 645AFD camera with a digital back and as much natural light as possible.
“Once I learned the fact that there are 15 to 20 million (women) who have guns, I was just really curious: who are these people? Because the numbers are really large, but the profile was really low.”
In a thumbs-up review that no doubt helped sales, the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine said: “These women aren’t Vogue models… Their guns are only a small extension of themselves, an addendum to their lifestyles.”
Peggy Tartaro, editor of Women and Guns magazine, said “Chicks with Guns” in some ways recalled another, more autobiographical book, “She’s Got a Gun” by gun-owning Georgia photography professor Nancy Floyd, published in 2008.
Just out in bookstores is “Girl Hunter” by Georgia Pellegrini, a petite young restaurant chef from New York who favors personally shooting the turkey and boar that winds up in her frying pan. Recipes are included.
Despite such myth-shattering tomes, the notion of women with guns remains a bit of a novelty. If anyone ever pitched the idea of a photo book about guys with guns, Tartaro said, “I don’t think you’d get the coffee-table treatment.”