All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, the New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard once said. It is also the formula for a best-selling book of portraits of US 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 release on Oct. 1 last year — and no one is more surprised than the photographer herself.
“I’m absolutely astonished and actually slightly perplexed,” Lindsay McCrum said 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, 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 on to 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.
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.
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 the US 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.”