December 31, 2012

Fully Loaded: the Gun Debate (and Political Violence)

Zed Nelson man w baby and gun

Targeting archival content that gibes with the times, the Getty Reportage Tumblr site posts this Zed Nelson photo from 1998 as both a visual reference and pictorial provocation as we engage this latest gun control debate. Nelson’s photo of this hard-gripping gun owner wearing the country radio t-shirt, the cammo pants and the glare couldn’t do more to stoke the fire, enhanced by Mike’s fully loaded quote: “It’s my constitutional right to own a gun and protect my family.”

What is cleverly sickening is how the photo subjects us to emotional violence. In the name of protection, we’re seeing the baby framed as a prop, an unwittingly counterpoint, even a hostage. (Notice where the baby’s eyes seem to be trained, by they way.) It’s not just the tension in that hand and that elbow. Though the gun is pointing forward of the child, the perspective and photographic proximity of barrel-to-cheek arms this photo with the almost indescribable tension that such a weapon could blow a head off.

What’s brilliant about the photo is how it’s red meat to both sides — that the child “gets it” if you take away the gun or leave it in Mike’s hand. But what’s even more brilliant posting the photo now is how much — whether we’re talking about gun control, the economy, or any significant political issue —  it captures the way the Congress and the political right is behaving, too. It’s not about deliberation and facts and finding solutions. It’s about a tense grip and a gun to the head.

(Edited conclusion 8:20 pst)

(photo: Zed Nelson for TIME)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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