A few months ago, Artist and gun lover Ben Philippi set the gun blogosphere on fire with the publication of his new book, God, Guns & Guts: The Greatest Book Ever Made About Contemporary American Gun Culture.
The controversy the book created centered around photos that depicted, for lack of a better term, ‘eccentric-looking’ gun owners handling firearms in what appeared to be an unsafe and careless manner (finger on the trigger). This led many in the gun community to believe that the book was a joke being played on gun owners, a sort of backhanded hit piece, fodder for the pro-gun control crowd.
But after buying the book, and perusing its pages, I didn’t get the feeling that this book was intentionally designed to make gun owners look bad. In fact, I actually enjoyed the book and identified with its aesthetic vision. Overall, I thought it was a compelling and entertaining snapshot of American gun owners, even though it skewed to the more ‘lively’ members of the gun community.
Now, that’s not to say I didn’t have any questions. I did (good art always leaves one with questions). And thankfully, Mr. Philippi agreed to entertain them.
Q & A
S.H. Blannelberry: How did you arrive at the title of your book, “God, Guns and Guts”?
Ben Philippi:My friend Mark Muller, who is on the cover of the book, suggested it. I met him after seeing his interview on CNN back in 2009 about his promotion God, Guns, Guts and American Pickup Trucks. He’d give you a free AK-47 if you bought a new truck from his car dealership in Butler, Missouri. I thought this was brilliant.
SHB: What is your favorite gun?
BP: I recently purchased a Savage 10FP in .308 with a Leupold scope. I’m really enjoying hitting cantaloupes out to 500 yards. Besides that, I love my Kimber custom in .45.
SHB: Speaking of favorites, what is your favorite picture in the book?
BP:I’d have to say Paul from Florida who I photographed sitting in his homemade hot tub behind his home with his AK-47. He’s a successful computer programmer who’s what you might call a ‘weekend redneck’. We had a blast doing the shoot and his quote, taken from George W. Bush in 2002 “Let’s Roll!” works well with the photo (SEE SLIDE 34 BELOW).
When I told Paul that I’ve been receiving criticism from the American gun community for putting people such as himself in the book, he shook his head and asked; “When did America get so boring? We used to strive on being crazy, unique and bold. Now everyone’s going around apologizing and worrying about what other people think.”
SHB: Your book created a bit of a controversy, that is, you were sharply criticized because some of the photos depict gun owners with their finger literally on the trigger – did you anticipate this blowback from readers?
BP:I always asked the people I was photographing not to shoot me. Most of the time the guns were not loaded, but sometimes they were ‘hot’. That’s when I had to be doubly careful to make sure the safety was on, no finger was on the trigger and no pointing at me.
We were always in safe locations so the whole argument about fingers on the trigger is irrelevant in my mind. The only person that would have gotten hurt is me, and to be honest, I was prepared to take a round to make this book great. I wanted there to be a sense of danger and urgency. This is what makes this book special.
SHB: Do you feel you sensationalized gun ownership to some extent? Perhaps, played into certain negative stereotypes (gun owners are fanatical insurrectionists or crazed sociopaths or something)? If you knowingly exploited these perceptions of gun owners, why did you choose to do so?
BP:Yes and no. There are many ‘normal’ gun owners in the book but I did tend to levitate more towards the eccentric crowd. What photographer wouldn’t? I do believe that I successfully captured a wide variety of gun owners from all walks of life and anyone that disagrees with this is not being objective. I’m a bit of a wild man and so there’s a part of me in the book.
SHB: There’s an overtly sexual theme in some of the pictures, particularly in the way women are portrayed – can you talk a little about the decision to include those pictures?
BP: I remember pulling over at a truck stop in Nevada and seeing a beer cooler with a girl in a bikini riding a gun like a big bull. I thought it was cool. So I ran with that theme a little. There’s also a lot of straight shots of women in the book too.
That being said, any woman that can’t enjoy a photograph of a hot babe wearing a string-thin stars and stripes bikini hoisting two revolvers in the air, either looks like Hillary Clinton, or votes for her.
Any guy that doesn’t like it owns every season of NBC Friends.
SHB: Overall, what was the inspiration behind the book?
BP:To make an amazing book that celebrates freedom, stimulates discussion and is easy on the eyes.
SHB: You say it took you four years to complete, what was that process like? (Do you have photos that didn’t make the cut?) BP: The book started in Los Angeles where I started posting ads in the talent section of Craigslist looking for gun owners who wanted to be photographed with their guns. The response was overwhelming. It turns out gun owners want to be seen and heard.
As a kid, I grew up with BB guns, .22 rifles and eventually a .30-30 rifle for deer. There were always guns around but I never paid much attention to their significance or symbolism. After the events of 9/11, I wanted to find out why so many Americans found it essential to own guns.
What started in Los Angeles eventually spread to Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Missouri and beyond. Before I knew it, I’d photographed and accumulated quotes from gun owners in or from every single State.
There are many photos that didn’t make it in the book. I have included one (see woman in the pink clothes).
SHB: Traveling had to have been fun, what was the open road like? The gun owners you met, did you know them beforehand or did you meet them along the way?
BP: It was a blast. America is a beautiful country. The deserts of the Southwest will always have a special place in my heart but where the landscape lacked ‘grandeur’, the people made up for it two-fold.
I had a great time with everyone I photographed. Sometimes I knew them before and sometimes not. Whatever the case, everyone was incredibly generous and hospitable. There’s no other country on earth with such a thirst for knowledge and truth and a desire to be free.
SHB: Picasso quipped, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls” – do you feel as though you’ve accomplished this feat with GG&G?
BP: If my book succeeds in doing this – great. It’s definitely managing to stimulate conversation. I’m happy gun owners are starting to realize that this book actually celebrates the 2nd Amendment in a way that’s never been done before.
I’m in the process of making a second version of my book. I’ve had so much feedback, criticism and praise from the first book that I want to use to make the most complete book ever about American gun culture. I need everyone’s help to make this happen. Please join my book’s Facebook page to get in contact with me and help me create a masterpiece that everyone can enjoy.
Thank you and God Bless America.
After looking at the pictures and reading the interview, what are your thoughts about God, Guns & Guts?