Photographer Jane Hilton discovered an obsession for America and American culture in 1988. Fascinated by the strange hyper reality of Vegas, the gambling, McDonald’s style wedding culture and the brothels scattered throughout the desert landscape provided ample inspiration for her practice.
The grey skies of Northern Europe seem to engender a love of America’s endless Kodacolor sunshine. However, not everything is beautiful in this paradise. One part of the American myth is the gun. Fetishised in films and literature, immortalized by artists such as Warhol, Mapplethorpe and Lichtenstein, weapons have always featured since the first settlers used them to kill animals and Native Indians.
Americans have a strong relationship with their gun culture. The permission to carry a gun is seen as an inalienable and fundamental right, meaning the citizens of US now own more than 300 million weapons between them. These owners include those with a history of mental illness and blind people. Still looking forward to that trip to California? As Barack Obama put it recently, “We have a pattern now of mass shooting in a country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”
When Hilton visited the L.A. Gun Club in downtown Los Angeles and was allowed to shoot at targets after a mere 10 minute long introduction, she was naturally terrified. She also knew this would make for a great shoot and rather than going for the obvious images, she chose to photograph the targets after they had been shot at. The people who go chose their own targets from over a hundred target posters and as you can imagine, they are not exactly PC. You get your Muslim, your standard scary-looking burglar and so on.
Not unexpectedly, the patrons were pretty wary of her. These were a mixed lot by the sounds of it, varying from people de-stressing after work to a couple on a date night. You’d imagine it would be just rednecks and possibly Sarah Palin-types maybe hoping to pick up the rednecks, but it sounds like it could be anyone from a father and son to a couple of girls shooting at targets as an alternative to going for drinks. In the London gallery, the photographs of the shot targets will be almost life-size and displayed just like a shooting gallery. I wonder if any of the patrons from the L.A Gun Club will get to see the exhibition, and if so, what their reaction would be?
In a preface to the accompanying limited edition book, novelist Richard Ford (himself a gun owner) says gun owners are as likely to shoot themselves or an innocent bystander as a hoodlum who is threatening them. “Guns – no matter who has them – are always seeking an opportunity to go off,” he writes. To me this sounds shocking, sort of like owning a rattlesnake, hoping it won’t strike. And still Americans defend their right to kill or be killed.
Jane Hilton | L.A Gun Club
13 May—18 June 2016
11 Eccleston Street, London, SW1W 9LX
Tel: 020 8823 5540
The Royal Photographic Society will also present work from Precious, her study of Nevada working girls at The Magic Gallery from 17 May—24 June 2016.
Words by Anna Bang
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