It’s not too often that I’m surprised with the photos in my inbox, but when I clicked on a PDF sent to me by Nashville, Tenn.-based portrait photographer, Hollis Bennett, I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback. To be fair, I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. I mean, the PDF was titled “Machine Gun Shoot,” so I really shouldn’t have been so surprised to see, well, machine guns. However, there were significantly more (and bigger) guns, bullets, and fake dead people than I’d counted on.
I’ve always found Hollis’ style—which he describes as “visceral reality”—to be quite interesting. So, intrigued, and as someone who’s both equally terrified and fascinated by guns, I knew I needed to learn more about the strange world he’d captured.
According to Hollis, he shoots in a documentary and journalistic manner.
But unlike true journalism, I have no problem manipulating a situation to get the images I have in mind out of it.
This shoot was no different. Turns out, it was the bi-annual Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot, where anyone can simply show up, pay a fee and fire the heck out of giant automatic and class 3 restricted weaponry, including machine guns, cannons, flamethrowers and pretty much anything you’d see on a battlefield—or a round of Call of Duty.
This was a personal shoot for Hollis, who had been wanting to reshoot the event after attending a few years back. Hollis had been drawn to the people of Knob Creek, much like a lot of the subjects I shoot, this would classify as sort of a fringe element of society. By that, I mean it’s a group of people very focused on one thing that happens to not fit nicely into the view of the mainstream. Also, I enjoy watching things explode just as much as the next guy.
He‘d gone to the event in 2009, making the trip up to Kentucky to photograph, but found himself unprepared to shoot in the atmosphere he found himself. This time, he was ready.
Hollis knew that his biggest challenge would be “not pissing anyone off,” so he came prepared.
Gun culture folks are notoriously paranoid about cameras. They think that anyone who isn’t on the far right side of things is there to take their guns and impose their ‘liberal agenda,’ whatever that is.
Initially, the people were hesitant and reserved, with a fair amount of finger waving but once I got a bit closer and engaged them in conversation, they finally warmed a bit. The best thing though was just pointing to my hip where I was carrying my pistol and pointing out to them that if I was some liberal come to take their guns, would I be carrying that day? It was a great passport, if you will.
He also learned a thing or two from the shoot.
When in doubt, scare up a southern accent, slow your words down and always carry a bigger gun than the guy you’re standing next to.
In the end, the day was a success for Hollis, who says it was actually a lot tamer than his 2009 experience.
Maybe folks are starting to become a bit more rational?”
He also managed to get his photos and get out without getting shot or being called “a damn liberal.” An accomplishment if I’ve ever seen one.