The American gun owner takes many forms — including that of a slim, brown-haired Napa County teenager.
On the cover of the photographic essay “Chicks with Guns” is a tableau of refinement and weaponry rolled into one: the image of Greta Martin, a lass in a flowing gray dress at rest on the hardwood floor of a 19th-century winery, four antique rifles mounted to the wall behind her.
Beside her left hand is another vintage gun, an English Forsyth scent-bottle pistol made around 1820. Behind her is a stuffed buck, a trophy her father, Greg, captured during a Scotland hunt.
This juxtaposition of youth and death, femininity and firepower, may seem unexpected, but the pieces fit naturally to Martin, a Rutherford native whose portrait greets buyers of “Chicks with Guns,” shot by the art photographer Lindsay McCrum and published in October.
“That’s the one aspect that surprises everybody, that you can’t make any one generalization about women with guns,” Martin, now 19 and a University of Southern California freshman, said Tuesday.
The combination is familiar to Martin, whose father is a collector and auctioneer of vintage firearms as well as co-owner of the Martin Estate Winery, where his daughter’s portrait was taken two years ago.
“It goes back to before I was born,” she said. “I grew up around antiques and collectibles; it’s always been in my environment and I’m completely used to it.”
“Chicks with Guns” profiles 78 female firearm owners from across the U.S., of various ages, races and occupations. Accompanying McCrum’s photos are first-person accounts by her subjects on the role of guns and shooting in their lives, from farmers’ daughters to experienced hunters to a willowy Texan posed in her bridal dress while holding the antique dueling pistol that was her father’s wedding gift.
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A onetime painter who switched to photography in 2003, McCrum began photographing gun-owning women after reading a 2006 article in The Economist magazine about the size and reach of the U.S. firearm and hunting businesses. What was intended as a 20-photo exhibition evolved into a 3 1/2-year project, which she described as uncovering a subculture virtually hidden in plain sight.
“I wanted to give viewers a sense of the various regions, and also to reveal the unexpected breadth and diversity of women gun owners,” she said last week. “The numbers are very large, about 15-20 million, but their profile is very low. It’s usually seen as a masculine subject; one thinks of hunting and shooting, and you think of it as something men do.”
Arguably more important to the book’s spirit than the women and their firearms are the photos’ settings, and the context they lend to the subjects’ relationship to guns and shooting, according to McCrum.
“What I’ve been told was that these women were really thrilled that they were being seen clearly,” she said. “There are so many misleading stereotypes of women gun owners, and they were happy to be able to tell their own stories, that there was nothing sensationalist about it, that they were being pictured in a more authentic fashion.”
Martin, in “Chicks with Guns,” recalls receiving her first BB gun from her father on her 7th birthday, practicing her aim on a outdoor brass bell, and earning her state hunting license at 9 to take part in the family’s weekend boar-hunting trips. In 2006, she played the role of a young Annie Oakley in the PBS “American Experience” television documentary on the 19th-century markswoman.
If the sight of Martin on the cover of “Chicks with Guns” is eye-catching to some readers, she declared her presence caused scarcely a ripple with those who knew her locally, though she admitted few of her Los Angeles acquaintances are aware of her taste of fame.
“My friends were excited to see it,” said Martin, who graduated from St. Helena High School last year. “Because the Napa Valley is still so agriculture-based, it’s not entirely shocking here that people hunt.”