A landscape artist-turned-portait photographer, Lindsay McCrum enjoys exploring gender-based stereotypes. She has photographed young boys playing in military costumes with toy guns and young girls dressing up in their mothers’ fancy clothes.
After reading a provocative article in 2006 about the burgeoning gun business in the United States — an estimated 20 million women own guns — McCrum set off on a journey of discovery, photographing women and their weapons.
Meticulously, McCrum took portraits of 280 women and selected 81 for her coffee-table book, “Chicks With Guns,” which came out Oct. 1.
Some women were photographed in fine gowns, others in hunting garb, police uniforms or jeans and denim jackets. One subject is 8 years old; one is 85. Through portraits that demand to be studied and accompanying narratives by the women explaining the role of weapons in their lives, the story of guns in America is told biographically, not politically.
McCrum, who lives in New York City and California, is in Las Vegas signing her books at a hunters convention sponsored by Safari Club International. She has never owned a gun but, over the past few years, has certainly been exposed to them. We had a few questions for her.
How did the project evolve?
My intent was to get 15 to 20 strong images for an exhibition. But when I started photographing the women, they were so enthusiastic, I realized I had tripped on to something that was bigger than what I could have imagined. If you had told me back in the Fall of 2006 that I would spend 3 1/2 years traveling across the country photographing women with their firearms, I would have asked you, “How many cocktails did you have?”
How did you find the women?
Word-of-mouth. They have a sense of community — not geographically, but in their interest. Some are competitive shooters; others are hunters. Some are in law enforcement. Some are collectors or had guns for self-defense. Some women said they wouldn’t play bridge or go shopping together but would go to the shooting range together.
How were the women introduced to guns?
Seventy-five percent told me it was through their dads, who taught them how to shoot. One woman said she learned to use a gun to keep her fiancé happy and then fell in love with it. They married, then divorced, but she still shoots. Others said shooting was a family tradition, passed down through the generations. They were connected because of their love for guns.
Does a woman’s relationship with her gun differ from a man’s?
I’m told that shooting instructors say women are much better students and shots than men because they are patient, don’t come to the sport with a lot of bad habits, and they listen. Some women talk about their guns the way other women would talk about their jewelry. And not one was flippant toward guns. They were conversant about gun laws, and I was struck by how conscious they were of gun safety being first and foremost.
How does a portrait of a woman change when you add a gun?
When people look at photographs, they project beyond what they see. When you add a gun to a photograph of a woman, you get a lot more projection because of what a gun might suggest. That’s why I added the narratives, for the women to explain the context of guns in their lives.
When a man opens the book, what does he look at first: the woman or the weapon?
(Laughing) I photographed some very lovely women, and the first thing most men look at are the guns. They say, “Wow, is that a gold-plated Desert Eagle?”
Here are some of McCrum's portraits from "Chicks with Guns," with excerpts from the stories that the women wrote about themselves.
Ruth • Savannah, GA • Winchester Model 12 20-gauge
Since I was the only child and I know Father wanted a boy, he taught me how to shoot when I was just a little girl. And so I grew up shooting with him….When I got married, I married one of the best shots in the whole state of Georgia. We all hunt together with our friends, which has been marvelous. We’ve been doing it all our lives and it’s just fun and a wonderful sport.
Alexandra and Truett • Houston, TX • Ithaca 20-gauge side-by-side
Guns, like everything in my childhood home, were considered treasures and works of art…I feel fortunate (my two sons) will know and understand the significance of an heirloom firearm and possess the trait of respect for the outdoors. For me, the real art lies in the unspoken, in what is created watching my boy shoot his first bird over a tank against a fire-burning South Texas sky. That’s art, and worth passing on to another generation.
Greta • Napa Valley, CA • English Forsyth system scent bottle pistol, ca. 1820
In 2006, I played the young Annie Oakley in a PBS “American Experience” production. Originally I was only supposed to be in a short outdoor clip, but after the producer saw the footage of me shooting flyers with a 20-gauge double-barrel shotgun, she also wanted me to portray Annie Oakley on stage. If you watch the footage, you will see me shooting a Frank Wesson single-shot .22 target rifle as well as a Stevens .22 single-shot target pistol, which are the same types of guns Annie Oakley used in her performances.
Jenevieve • San Antonio, TX • Antique single-shot percussion dueling pistol
In this photograph, I am holding an antique pistol that has been passed down in my family for years. It was a wedding present from my father and originally belonged to his father…. Shooting had not really been my thing and I had learned mostly to appease my father and make him happy…My dad is thrilled that I have taken a liking to his favorite hobby.
Cynthia • Stamford, CT • Parker 28-gauge side-by-side
Bird shooting is exceptionally challenging for me. When you’re trying to shoot a driven grouse that’s coming at you at about 50 miles an hour with a back wind of however many miles per hour, and this thing’s like a little bullet coming toward you, the skill level and the concentration level are really acute and it’s really, really tough and it’s really, really challenging — and I like that…My favorite gun is a Beretta 20-gauge over-and-under. I have a matched pair.
Jamie • Loomis, CA • .44 Magnum Ruger Super Redhawk
I was a police officer for five years. When I was in the academy, the shooting instructor knew immediately that I had been shooting before. I was just a young woman then, and they assume you don’t have the same skills. I think they were really impressed that I could shoot. I thought, “You know? I’ll show these guys I can do this.”
Sarita • Armstrong, TX • Parker 20-gauge side-by-side
Several years ago I was shooting quail with an older fellow who was working pointer dogs on a neighboring ranch. At the end of the day he asked if he could take a closer look at my Parker. After inspecting it, he inquired how I came to own it. I explained it was a gift from my father, who had purchased it from a local gun dealer….He laughed and told me that this was the very same gun he had learned how to shoot with as a young boy growing up in Tennessee.
Pamela • Monte Sereno, CA • Freedom Arms .454 Casull
I first looked into handgun hunting when I found my .375 rifle was heavy to carry while climbing a mountain, and its recoil was too punishing. I am 5’ 2” and weigh about 110 lbs. When I switched to a hunting handgun, I found it challenging and fun to shoot. I’ve had several men mention to me that the .454 Casull kicks too much for them. My response is they’re fighting it too much. Men seem to want to control the recoil but can’t, so they hold on too tight.
Rachel • Livingston, MT • Ruger 10/22 carbine
I got interested in hunting because my dad is a hunter, and ever since I was little I knew that I was going to be a hunter too. My sisters and my dad taught me how to shoot a .22 when I was very young. My favorite gun is the .250 Savage, because that’s the gun I used when I killed my first elk.