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Photographer Lindsay McCrum documents 'Chicks With Guns'

November 26, 2011 |  6:30 am

4girls

The title "Chicks with Guns" evokes visions of Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane or a really bad B-movie. Photographer Lindsay McCrum's book (Vendome, $45), an examination of the relationship between women and their firearms, dispels some stereotypes and reveals a surprising slice of present-day Americana.

Her  portraits of female hunters, cops, Olympic biathletes and collectors are gorgeous, unsettling, entertaining and strangely elegant. Perusing the images without reading the personal essays is akin to watching a Merchant-Ivory film without the sound.

JenevieveThe women hail from different social levels, cultures and regions. They range from a tween-aged Rachel from Montana whose favorite gun is the .250 Savage "because that's the gun I used when I killed my first elk,'' to the grandmotherly Ellie, a sweet-looking former Merced, Calif., mayor surrounded by her doll collection and a Taurus Titanium .38 by her side

Here you learn of the depth of passion and respect for their guns, many passed down through generations. Described like fine wine or works of art, the stories express sentimental family traditions and relationships and note the enormous responsibility that comes with gun ownership.

Jenevieve, a beautiful blond bride from San Antonio, posed in her wedding gown holding an antique single-shot percussion dueling pistol. Being shown with her gun and dress were important because of their significance in her relationship with her father, who gave her the family heirloom as a wedding gift, and her husband, whom she met while skeet-shooting on a blind date.

"It was a collaborative effort, as the pictures had to make sense from the background, outfits and the gun," said McCrum, a Yale graduate who had a successful career as a painter before turning to photography. "It was an enormous privilege letting me take their portraits."

The book leaves politics in the background. "The only thing I shoot is a camera," said McCrum. "It's Rachelbiography, not advocacy."

The photographer, who splits her time between New York and San Francisco, said the project was influenced by a mix of Margaret Mead, Diego Velázquez and German documentarian August Sander.

Themes of self-image and identity are evident in her work. It was while working on projects about boys and their toy guns, "Superheroes and Commandos," and girls in evening gowns, "Dress-Up," that she came across a magazine article about the big business of hunting and guns. Subsequently, she learned there are around 20 million female gun owners in the country. Her original intent was to shoot a dozen or so images for an exhibition to find out more about these women.

"Their excitement and enthusiasm propelled this project forward," said McCrum of her nearly four-year journey across 15 states. Of the more than 280 photos she snapped, 80 are included in the book.

Overheard at one shoot: "I think I own more guns than shoes."

 -- Liesl Bradner

Photos, from top: Alison, Marlee, Lee and Margaret with Boss 20-gauge side-by-sides; Jenevieve of  San Antonio with an antique single-shot percussion dueling pistol; Rachel of Livingston, Mont., with a Ruger 10/22 carbine. From the book "Chicks With Guns" by Lindsay McCrum. Photographer Lindsay McCrum. Credit: The Vendome Press.

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