December 2, 2022

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‘Guns in America: Works by Jeff Corwin’ Powerful photo exhibit opens at the Holter Museum of Art | Local

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After his father died, photographer Jeff Corwin made the surprise discovery of three vintage handguns in his father’s belongings.

Uncertain what to do with the guns, Corwin locked them in a box and stored them in his basement.

Five years later in 2012, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened, killing 20 children and six adults.

For Corwin, it spurred a lot of thought about guns and the ones sitting in his basement.







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Jeff Corwin’s “Guns in America” photo exhibit opens at the Holter Museum of Art.






At the urging of a friend, Corwin took the guns to his studio and began using them in a series of dramatic photos that became his exhibit, “Guns in America,” which opens at the Holter Museum of Art with a reception 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 24, and an artist talk at 6:30 p.m.

Corwin, who’s made his living as a commercial and fine arts photographer, found his first photo attempts disappointing. “I wasn’t connected emotionally.”

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But then he spotted a piece of rusted, pitted metal in his studio that he’d used for a different project.

“I laid the gun in the center of it” and “severely changed the lighting and the way I approached doing it and something clicked.”

He realized, “I could do things with guns to communicate more of what I’m trying to say,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Cardwell.

Like everyone else, he said, he felt devastated about Sandy Hook.

“I just decided to use my father’s guns as a way to communicate what I feel about gun violence in this country.”

The props he uses to create his photographic scenes have a vintage look, inspired by his father’s vintage guns.

Corwin uses these symbolically to call attention to the “outdated” 1791 law, the Second Amendment. “It’s old time,” he said, adding that it hasn’t kept up with changes in U.S. society and guns and should be amended.







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Jeff Corwin’s “Guns in America #3” is a stark classroom – an empty old-fashioned student desk with an open book on it. Next to the desk a furled American flag, a splatter of blood on the wall behind the desk.






One powerful photo the viewer will see is from a stark classroom – an empty old-fashioned student desk with an open book on it. Next to the desk a furled American flag, a splatter of blood on the wall behind the desk. Above the desk a Doomsday-inspired Clock showing a few minutes to midnight, a universal symbol of threat to humanity. On the desk seat, a gun.

Corwin assembled this image after a school shooting.

“Sometimes clocks are the beginning of an idea,” he said. “Sometimes events are the beginning of an idea.”

And sometimes, it’s a trip to a junkyard or antique store.

At one such outing, a weird-shaped bowl caught his eye.

It inspired a photo assemblage featuring the glass bowl lined with a crumpled American flag. On the flag rests a Bible. And on it are three photos of unnamed mass shooters lined up in a row. Resting prominently in the front of the glass bowl – an ornate vintage handgun.







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“Guns in America #19” features a glass bowl lined with a crumpled American flag. On the flag rests a Bible. And on it are three photos of unnamed mass shooters lined up in a row.






Another powerful image is a variation on the American flag.

In the corner, instead of 50 stars, are 50 small photos of everyday people that he found in vintage photos in antique stores. The images are tinted green, emblematic of money, he said.







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“Guns in America #1”






He fashioned the rest of the flag from strips of red painted cloth laid on a white cloth. With the flag as a backdrop, a hand stretches out holding a revolver aimed at the people. “That’s my hand. That’s my dad’s gun.” The 50 faces represent that “a lot of people go unrecognized as having suffered from” gun violence.

Corwin chooses not to name his photo assemblages. The viewer should have their own emotional reaction, he said. He doesn’t want a title to lead them in a certain direction.

“I don’t have a problem with guns. It’s the laws behind the violence and the refusal to do anything about it. That’s my issue.”

“I enjoy creating the image. I love the process of building the sets and making the photos communicate… What’s important is that the images resonate with others.







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“Guns in America #20.” Corwin chooses not to name his photo assemblages leaving the viewer to have their own emotional reaction.






“I’m hoping it connects with people and gets them to think about the issue.

“I don’t know that I’m ever going to change anyone’s mind. Sometimes it feels futile…. But I can’t stop thinking about it, and I can’t stop using the tools I have at hand… I’d like there to be a glimmer of hope.”

The Holter Museum of Art decided two years ago to book this show now, said executive director Chris Riccardo. Little did they know at the time, the show would be going up shortly after another mass shooting at an elementary school – this time in Uvalde, Texas, just as the country was still emotionally reeling from a mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

As a nonprofit art center, the Holter doesn’t take a stance on issues, Riccardo said. But it does welcome other organizations to discuss the topics brought up in its exhibits.

“It’s time we had these discussions. …We just had that scare here in town (the arrest of a man accused of planning a shooting and bombing at Helena High School).”

In recent years, the Holter has hosted a number of timely, thought-provoking exhibits on pressing social issues, including: “Extraction, Art on the Edge of the Abyss,” featuring art that addressed environmental catastrophes and climate change; “Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate,” which transformed white nationalist, hate-filled books into works of art; and “Lens to the Streets,” a photo exhibit by Zach Begler of homeless people in Los Angeles.

In all these cases, it’s invited the community to use the exhibits to stimulate community dialog and action.

“Guns in America” runs across three galleries, which gives viewers more space to take in the images. “It is a heavy concept and it’s emotional to walk through it,” said Exhibition and Collection Manager Ramsay Ballew.

 “The images interact really elegantly and with a lot of power. The quality of the photographs is incredible.”

 “Guns in America” runs through Sept. 11. For more information, visit Holter Museum of Art, 12 E. Lawrence St., www.holtermuseum.org, 406-442-6400.

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