A couple of years ago, my mother explained that she had begun to carry a handgun for self-protection. Guns had never been a presence in our family, so I wondered why my 61-year-old mom would resort to such an action. No personal prior incident had occurred to cause her to carry. I was shocked, angry, and saddened.
I thought about the closeness and care in our relationship, while simultaneously questioning the distance between our perspectives…or was it simply between us? I wondered what she was so fearful of, and I realized that whatever it was, I had conjoined my fear with hers. Our fears were clearly on opposite ends of a polarized argument in this country, yet they lived in tandem, seemingly inseparable. My mother’s individual desire to carry a gun related to what I had been seeing on a larger scale, as collective, societal reverberations. Weeks later, this realization remained piercing and haunting.
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I set up my darkroom tent and tintype gear at locations in the Arizona desert where recreational target shooting is allowed. These spaces are heavily frequented and officially unmonitored. I create participants’ tintype portraits, then give the subjects the option to use the image as a target.
Tintypes were the primary form of photography during the American Civil War – another time when the country exhibited vast divides. Soldiers often posed for their tintype in military uniform and with weaponry. Looking back on these historical likenesses, I often wonder: is this tintype the last, if not the only, photograph of the soldier? At the moment the photograph was made, did he contemplate his own fate? Did he contemplate that he might battle another member of his family?
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Present day ideologies surrounding the gun in America contribute to a cultural civil war. I have engaged in this work to better inform myself and to actively question others who support these various ideologies. Most of these photographic encounters have resulted in open and thoughtful conversation surrounding views of the gun, and nearly all have concluded with a verbal exchange of gratitude.
Throughout the varied experiences with participants for this project, the driving desire has been to push notions of disagreement directly in contact with notions of reconciliation. Just how close can these concepts get, and what, then, is found at their intersection?
-Kari Wehrs, 2018