Visa pour l'Image

Gabriele Galimberti records proud US gun-owners in ‘The Ameriguns’

Brandon Brown (35), Ashtan (5) and Carson (3) – Harvest, Alabama Brandon Brown is a man of few words: "I’m 35 years old, I come from Huntsville and I love guns." A single father of two, he still lives and works just outside the town where he was born and raised. As he turned 18 he bought an AK-47, the gun most popular in the movies he’d always loved.
Brandon Brown (35), Ashtan (5) and Carson (3) – Harvest, Alabama Brandon Brown is a man of few words: "I’m 35 years old, I come from Huntsville and I love guns." A single father of two, he still lives and works just outside the town where he was born and raised. As he turned 18 he bought an AK-47, the gun most popular in the movies he’d always loved. © Gabriele Galimberti

Among the 25 photo exhibitions on show at the Visa pour l’image festival this year, "The Ameriguns" did not leave the public indifferent.

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"A few years ago, I read that there are more privately owned guns than people in the US," said photojournalist Gabriele Galimberti who traveled the United States to photograph private gun-owners, men and women, from all backgrounds. It turned out that some of them had up to 200 firearms in their homes in a country where the right to bear arms is a constitutional right.

RFI met Galimberti - an Italian photographer - in Perpignan in the southwest of France where the international photojournalism festival takes place every year.

RFI: Where did you get that idea of photographing gun-owners?

Gabriele Galimberti: Two or three years ago […] I was travelling to the US working on a completely different story. I was doing a documentary about dinosaurs for National Geographic.

One day that I was off I went to a gun shop in Kansas. I found a huge store in the middle of nowhere with a big sign outside that said ‘guns’. I was curious and I went inside. I spoke to many clients and I asked a man: 'Do you have guns?' And he said 'yes of course I have guns' [...] 60, 70 maybe. Then I asked him if I could come and take a picture.

One hour later I was at his place taking photos of him and his guns.

The first photo was really strong and powerful.

RFI: Who are the ‘Ameriguns’?

GG: The Ameriguns are simple American people [...] I photographed normal families across America, but with this particularity - they love guns.

It’s not something everybody does in the US. The majority of people love guns but not everybody. I decided to photograph a specific kind of people. The one who really love guns and have many guns at home. Because I wanted to explore the relationship that some Americans tight with guns.

I took photos of people everywhere in the US. From New York to Hawai. From Montana to Texas. I photographed around 40, 50 people, at home, with all the guns they owned.

And sometimes they owned 20 guns, sometimes 200. A lot.

There are men, women, families, young and old people. There are white, black, latinos. I didn’t want to focus on a specific category.

RFI: They all seem to be very proud on the photos. Did you have any problems to make them pose with their guns?

GG: No, to be honest with you, it was kind of easy to do it because people that I chose for this project where the ones who were really proud of what they own. To accept being photographed you need to be a little exhibitionist.

I got in touch with more than 200, 300 people. But only 45 of them decided to say yes to my request. Most of the people said no. And the ones who said yes were super proud and very happy to be photographed. At that time I was working for National Geographic and they were proud to be in this magazine.

Stephen F. Wagner (66) – Municipality of State College, Pennsylvania Until the age of 50, Stephen just wished. He dreamed, assessed, and studied history and models. Since childhood he’s been fascinated with guns. When he was 8, his grandfather put a revolver in his hand and explained the basics. Decades later, Stephen used the same handgun to teach his own children to shoot.
Stephen F. Wagner (66) – Municipality of State College, Pennsylvania Until the age of 50, Stephen just wished. He dreamed, assessed, and studied history and models. Since childhood he’s been fascinated with guns. When he was 8, his grandfather put a revolver in his hand and explained the basics. Decades later, Stephen used the same handgun to teach his own children to shoot. © Gabriele Galimberti

RFI: How did you stage the photos, can you explain your process?

GG: What you see on my photos is just a portrait. It can be one person or a family but the particularity is that there are many guns, rifles and other guns displayed on the floor or on the wall.

The frame of the photo is actually full of guns. There’s no single space on the picture which is empty of guns. It’s filled up with guns.

That’s actually a visual formula that I’ve actually been using since ten years maybe. I made five different projects using more or less the same thing. I did it with children and toys, a family with medicine, food or collections. This time it’s Americans and guns which became The Ameriguns.

RFI: It’s exhibitionist and a bit provocative somehow...?

GG: Yes of course it’s a provocative action because we don’t see these things every day. We know that Americans have guns. This is not something that I discovered. We already knew it. But when you see a family with 200 guns, it’s actually shocking and a bit provocative. This is not a common thing to see; it’s really special somehow.

I don’t want to say if it’s bad or good, it’s not my role.

My role as a photographer is to observe and take a documentary photo. And then the viewer can take his own position and decides if what is in the picture is good or bad.

But yes for sure it’s a bit shocking to see so many guns in one frame.

RFI: For example, on the photo with 35 years old Brandon Brown; did you ask him to pose with his children outside of their house?

GG: No, he was proud to be there with the children and the family and actually one of the two children, the oldest one - I think he’s six or seven years old - he already shoots with a gun.

Most of the people in my photos -  they first shot guns when they were six or seven, very young. It’s a sort of family tradition. When you are a young boy or girl in Texas, it could easily happen that maybe your father or your uncle takes you to shoot with a gun. 

Here in Europe maybe we learn how to use a bicycle. In Texas they learn to use a gun.

It’s not everybody. There are many people who don’t like guns, who don’t use guns. But there is a large amount of people who loves guns and uses them daily.


► Visa pour l'image from 28 August to 26 September 2021 in Perpignan in southern France.

     And at Paris Parc de la Villette from 15 September to 31 October 2021.

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