“Our aim is to survive is the result of an exploration into the area of masculinity and social stereotypes. As a documentary photographic essay the work opens the doors to a lesser-seen area of society in an attempt to challenge pre-existing British stereotypes surrounding male identity and firearms.
The Blackpool Pistol and Rifle club as been running since 1948 and is a typical example of what you would find in many shooting clubs throughout the United Kingdom. After a 1997 firearms amendment outlawed all but muzzle loading and single shot pistols, the membership to these clubs dwindled. As with many things within contemporary society the unfashionable quickly becomes lost and the
traditions of old soon turn to nostalgia. The walls of this club speak of a time gone; the faux wooden panels and the photographs proudly displayed offer an insight into “the good aul days”. However they spoke as much about an acceptance of their fate as it offered a reminder into the past. The unfashionable has already become nostalgic whilst still in existence. To emphasize the idea of ever shifting social opinions I have offered a critique on the normative opinions associated masculinity and firearms. Throughout the work the viewer is encouraged to draw off there own pre-existing opinions before eventually having these opinions subverted. By using masculinity as a focal point, symbolic links are drawn between the continually changing view of masculinity and the decline in popularity of those things that
do not fit within today’s society.” Brian Morrison.
The following text was written by Mike Huggins for issue Number 63 of Source Photographic review (July 2010) to accompany the photographic piece, Our aim is to survive.
Since guns were invented their owners have taken great pride in their keen eyesight and their ability to shoot straight and true. So-called ‘sporting shooting’, whether for game, or wildfowl, grouse, woodcock or pheasant has long been popular amongst the better off. Not all now approve. Clay pigeon shooting gained followers after 1921, when wild-pigeon shooting competitions were banned. But the pictures shown here are a reminder that competitive target shooting is a much more cross-class sport. It too has a long history. Formalised club beginnings lay in patriotism and national defence. Queen Victoria presented the Queen’ Prize Contest with prize money of £240 when the National Rifle Association was formed to encourage skill in rifle and pistol shooting so Britons would be better able to defend the realm overseas. The sport got another boost in the early twentieth century, when Lord Roberts called for civilian rifle clubs to be formed after British soldiers struggled to defeat the Boers in South Africa. The sport lost members during both World Wars, though a few clubs, including the Havant Rife and Pistol Club, were formed by home defence ‘Dad’s Army’ groups during the Second World War.
Havant was in the south, and even today about two thirds of gun clubs affiliated to the National Rifle Association are south of Birmingham. But these pictures of Blackpool’s Gun and Rifle Club, now in existence for over twenty-five years, are a reminder that there are clubs right across the United Kingdom. Weapon ownership is difficult and expensive, and clubs allow a cheaper form of shooting practice.
Some readers will recall the publicity surrounding the Hungerford killings in 1987 and the 1996 Dunblane deaths. The police had granted both men firearm certificates for their weapons, but neither man was a member of a rifle club. Indeed, several rifle clubs had turned down Thomas Hamilton, the man responsible for the Dunblane events, when he applied for membership. But the events caused a media anti-gun frenzy, and following the Cullen report on Dunblane, the government passed legislation to ensure that here in Britain we have some of the strictest gun legislation in the world. In 1997 a Firearms Act banned the private ownership of all cartridge ammunition handguns, regardless of calibre. But the government took the view that it was right to allow the sport of target shooting to continue in some form, and allowed clubs, operating under a very high degree of security, to be licensed by the Secretary of State.
Shooting is an increasingly popular recreational activity, and encouraged by the free publicity of the shooting competitions which begin the Olympic games. Most people who enjoy it now shoot at rifle clubs. Pride in their equipment is a feature of almost all sports clubs, of whatever sort. In these rifle and pistol club photographs members are shown in a relationship with their smallbore, fullbore or air rifles and pistols, cradling them in their arms, pointing them proudly towards the sky, or more safely, towards the ground. Some may be owned. Others, ranging from target rifles, sporting rifles and air rifles to air pistols and black powder pistols, will belong to the club.
With an increased emphasis on health and safety, far more sports have turned to some form of protective covering for the head. Protection is a feature of some of the photographs shown here. The sound of shots can reach up to 140 decibels, so shooters wear ear plugs and ear mufflers to save their ears from damage. Eyes can need protection, and strong polycarbonate safety glasses are worn to save the eyes from potential problems such as a sheared firing pin. Expert shooters can use high magnification scopes for more precision, and these provide better focus, clarity and eye relief. The sand on the ground absorbs spent shots and sound.
We get a sense too, of the club membership, which attracts women as well as men, though men still predominate. Young people can take part, over the age of fourteen, under careful guidance and supervision. In return for their initial membership fee and monthly subscription members get instruction as well as regular practice opportunity, though they also have to pay for the ammunition they use. A key feature of most sports is competition, and many members certainly enjoy the competitive element of club membership. Gun clubs can compete at various levels, from internal club, through local, county and national leagues. And of course, just as with other sports clubs, there is the conviviality and sociability of shared interests, which for many is a greater pleasure than competition.
What attracts the members to these target-shooting clubs? I don’t know Blackpool personally, but talking to members of other such clubs, it doesn’t seem to come from film or television fantasies, though it may be that an atavistic memory of hunting kicks in, but in a modern, safe form. Shooters themselves tend to talk more about the thrill of holding a weapon, aiming it and successfully hitting a target. How the adrenalin rush that comes from the sense of control, looking down the sight, squeezing the trigger, can be quite electric.
© Mike Huggins
To keep upto date with the comings & goings of Brian Morrison check out his blog shutteritis.