“Regardless of background, weapons are popular across the United States”

Surprise of the 14th edition of the ImageSingulières festival in Sète, the exhibition “The Age of Innocence” by photographer Laurent Élie Badessi, explores the emotional bond that binds young Americans to firearms. A subject that could not be more topical, treated with rare simplicity and accuracy. Maintenance.

Why did you choose to photograph children for your project on firearms in the United States?
When I arrived in Houston, Texas in 1991, I was immediately exposed to gun culture. To be a good Republican who respects the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you must have one. But above all, I was surprised to find that parents introduced very young children to shooting. They told me that this activity allowed them to strengthen their family ties and, for some in rural areas, survive by going in search of food: it really is a way of life. The youngest thus find it normal to live with weapons. This angle was not approached in photography, I started the project in 2016 and made a hundred pictures over three years.

Which protocol did you adopt?
I chose the bias of the psychological and affective relationship that children and adolescents have to weapons. To each of them I asked a simple question: “What do you like about weapons?” » Then I photographed them as simply as possible in black and white in front of a white background. In New York, Texas, Idaho, New Jersey, or Louisiana, I first went through shooting clubs, then worked mouth-to-mouth, giving myself the opportunity to get in touch with families who possess all kinds of weapons, without necessarily having learned to use them. . On the weekends, I arrange my travel studio in a shooting club, meeting room, hotel, garage or in a family room. I was always accompanied by one or two assistants and someone specializing in firearms, usually a police officer, to make sure everything went well. Sometimes there were many people and an incredible number of weapons at the same time. Because some families filled their trunks with it to have a choice.

“By handling weapons, the adults looked like they had one in hand”

What struck you during the filming?
Children’s discipline. They were used to handling weapons and looked like adults as soon as they had one in hand. Realizing that it was not a toy, they had great respect for the object and never put their finger on the trigger, holding the barrel pointing down or up. Conversely, the few children from uninitiated families in arms (whom I also invited) systematically put their finger on the trigger of dummy weapons; how to see them in the pictures. It is surprising to see that the children of the families, whether pro- or anti-gun, always posed proudly in front of the lens.

Lily S., 17, Texas (2016) – Gunnar B., 6, Texas (2016) – Gabriel P., 7, Idaho (2019).

Photo by Laurent Elie Badessi

Everything always went well?
Yes. I had given as instructions Children and teenagers must never behave as if they were pointing their gun at me – that is, at the person who is to look at the picture – and I have in no way wanted to incite violence among them. Once upon a time, a 15-year-old teenager who came with his mother, who had told him that I should “take the portrait for him”, thought he could shoot while I was taking the picture. He was disappointed and angry throughout the session. Another time, Taylor, a 16-year-old Texan, absolutely insisted on borrowing from the club a Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum, by far the most powerful weapon in the world, because it was a beautiful and glamorous object.

Connor R., 7, New York (2017).

Connor R., 7, New York (2017).

Photo by Laurent Elie Badessi

What do these children’s answers indicate?
Regardless of the medium, weapons are popular throughout the United States. Their number in circulation, more than three hundred million, would be the highest in the world. that they serve for sport shooting, hunting, whether they are objects of desire or collectibles, weapons, whether we like it or not, are part of the daily lives of Americans. A popular saying goes: “God created people, and Sam Colt made them right.” It is deeply inscribed in their history. See what, for example, Cassius R., 5 years old (New York) says: “They protect my family and kill the wicked.” Victoria H., 13 (Louisiana): “I like when someone sees a gun, they think ‘danger’, while I think ‘survival’.” Shaner R., 8 (Idaho): “I like that they have the power to kill and they are amazing.” Or Mia V., 16 (New Jersey), who says: “It is our right to own firearms. We use them to protect ourselves from harm. » Is this paranoia?

The series is over, what do you conclude?
The problem is complex. If the shooting of Uvalde in Texas, it seems, is a fact of a young psychologically fragile, it can not be said enough that in this country, eight to ten children are killed or wounded every day by firearms. This is the first home accident. It all starts at home! Without giving lessons, through my lens and the kids, I wanted to document this weapon culture.

The festival
Far from the attention and media hype, the documentary series on current topics presented at Sète as part of the 14th ImageSingulières Festival are all remarkably sober in their approach. Framing, lights with soft and realistic colors illuminate without slurring the conflicts that excite the world. Whether It’s “Dust,” a description of the Uighurs’ abominable living conditions in Xinjiang by Patrick Wack; of “Tree called home”, a constructive and sad journey through the universe in a psychiatric asylum in Russia by the Swede Kent Klich; the study conducted by Camille Gharbi on violence against women; or “Fragiles”, a collective project by Tendance Floue on the state of the world. A festival served by unique hanging places: old cellars, chapel, sea theater at Fort Saint-Pierre, to take the visitor on a stroll through the town of Sète, along its canals.

Have
ImageSingulières Festival, 14th festival of documentary photography in Sète (34), until 12 June. Free admission 10am to 7pm on weekends, 1pm to 7pm on weekdays. Information: reception at the Documentary Photographic Center, 17, rue Lacan, Sète, 04 67 18 27 54. Laurent Élie Badessi’s exhibition, “The Age of Innocence”, will be presented until 14 August (opening after the festival from Tuesday to Sunday). ., 14.00-19.00).

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