by JJ Ark
Lynn has been reviewing books for years, and Josie started too. Now it's time for me to jump into the fray.
y first excursion into critique comes by way of a hobby of mine that I know a few of you share: Firearms. I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I find them fascinating from a mechanical as well as sociological perspective.
Note: Relax. We aren't going to turn into a gun-site here. Not gonna happen. Indeed, Lynn and I had many a discussion about whether or not this was on-topic. Eventually, we both decided that this site is about many things, including an emphasis on self-reliance, preparedness (fiscal and otherwise) and family care. Firearms are a part of those classifications for many of us here. Not for all, but for many.
Now, about this coffee table book. It's BIG, a good 14"x8”. Not the sort of book to leave on a shelf. This is the type of book that begs to be left out on a coffee table.
A little background makes this whole excursion into firearm fandom make some sense:
Mr. Cassidy found himself wondering about firearms after the "fractious" 2004 election. He was aware that half the households in America own firearms,and the popular supposition is that gun issues and gun owners are what kept Kerry from taking the Presidency. Why would so many people own them and who were these people? So he set out to capture some owners on film, most of whom posed with some or all of their firearms, in such diverse locations as their kitchens, their living rooms--and, in one case, in front of his looms while wearing a Utilikilt and Birkenstocks.
Avery, Miles, Gregg and Theresa from Arizona chose to pose with their dog Ginny, two AR-15s, an M1 Garand and supressed Ruger 10-22's for the boys. In their kitchen. Barefoot. Says Gregg: “...one time out of a 101 where having a gun would have meant saving your own child – you would sell your soul, or trade everything you have to do that.”
Pro-Second Amendment arguments abound, but the real telling comments sprout from the heart, and speak directly to fears of safety and a desire to keep oneself and one's family safe. Some mention WWII, and some mention the need for an armed citizenry to keep a potentially malignant government at bay. Others speak directly to abuse, robbery, poverty, outdoors living, and the best turkey dinner ever.
The subjects range from Gwen, spokeperson for the GLTB Pink Pistols group posing with her partner Maggie, as well as African-Americans, the elderly, the young, and families of all stripes and configurations. TNH's home state of Oregon seems to bear heavy representation, with hipsters seeming to be omni-present. Look for the old-Portland architecture in at least one of the photos. Its also interesting to note that most of the photos included pets--cats, birds, dogs and mice.
Cassidy understands that Americans have a very complicated relationship with their firearms, dating back to the founding of our nation, and refuses to give us a one-sided view. For that he is to be commended.
Here's an example. HW of Massachusetts, is an owner of a Para-Ordnance .45 pistol. HW is surrounded by books of all types, an old trumpet, a chess set, a wheelchair, walker and a diabetes testing kit. Seated in an easy chair, wearing a blazer with jeans, he looks very much the respectable older gentleman. Speaking of his own intimidation by his gun-toting grandfather, he says, “I felt I really wasn't safe unless I had the same gun. I got one when I turned 18 and I felt a lot better because I was no longer afraid of my grandfather.”
My favorite quote, and arguably the strongest photo of the batch is of Stan from Pennsylvania, posing in his kitchen with cereal boxes on the fridge, wearing a t-shirt with the word “Peace” in the shape of handgun on it, He says “Its a right and a privilege.”
Pictures of people with their firearms aren't difficult to find. MySpace is full of them. GOOD photos of people with their guns are difficult to find. I can think of one other photographer out there doing similar work with similar import, and that is Oleg Volk from Tennessee (Fair disclosure: I consider Oleg a friend.) While Oleg focuses on firearms and their artistic elements, occasionally marrying them to a model or an owner, he most often does so in the creation of brilliantly crafted political posters. Cassidy is instead interested in marrying the person to both weapon and idea. This is unique and refreshing in its candor.
Cassidy is obviously a very talented photographer, and most in this collection are very very good. There are a few misses, and most of those seem to have been taken at awkward angles, usually from above. In these, the composition isn't allowed to stretch to it's full potential, and we are left with a clipped sense of environment. His ability to frame the picture is great provided he isn't working to compress the subject. He is strongest when giving us portraits of his subjects, letting their own faces and environments speak a language that effortlessly compliments, supports and is in turn enhanced by the accompanying quotations.
Ansel Adams was unique in his ability to tell a story with only a picture. Cassidy sees the flaw in that conceit, and set out to capture the owners alongside their own words. The results are an elegant expression of American individualism as well as a handsome collection of very diverse, and hence, American people.