On Representing Gun Culture through Photographs: Silhouette

In my last post, I discussed the ways in which photographer Garrett O. Hansen’s The Void both represents and misrepresents gun culture.

The second part of his “HAIL” series is called Silhouette. According to Hansen, “While The Void series deals with the power of the single bullet, the Silhouette series engages the broader culture of guns in America.”

For the pieces in this collection, Hansen gathered the cardboard backings which are used to hold humanoid paper targets at gun ranges. Hansen calls these an “unarmed man’s silhouette.”

In a darkroom he made prints of the cardboard which he then turned into one-to-one replicas in mirrored plexiglass. Hansen describes the experience of viewing the works when they are displayed: “As viewers approach the piece, they see their own reflections hollowed out by the countless bullets.”

Garrett O. Hansen, Silhouette. Used with permission.

I find these works quite compelling. I am even looking into purchasing one. Why?

The first time I taught my Sociology of Guns course and took my students to the range, one student asked to shoot a non-humanoid target. This opened up to later conversations about the appropriateness of using humanoid targets when one is just out shooting for fun. And why when we are training for defensive purposes we use humanoid targets rather than more realistic targets.

Garrett O. Hansen photography exhibit. Used with permission.

I have not had the experience of standing before these works and seeing myself reflected in the hollowed out target backing. But the thought of the experience brings me back to Massad Ayoob’s MAG-40 class. As I discussed in a (now quite) old post, from the very first session of MAG-40, Ayoob stresses that life is precious and the use of lethal force is a cosmic decision that is not to be made lightly. Silhouette makes this point in a profound way.



  1. Target types do have various effects. Most of the time, it is obviously just that, an inanimate target. I’ve always thought that self defense classes should be using humanoid targets of some kind, if for no other reason than to help the attendees gauge their feelings about shooting someone if it ever came to that. And very realistic photographic targets are another thing altogether, especially when using magnified optical sights …


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