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Great Balls Of Fire!

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Goodness gracious. And how do you do, Kentucky?

Yep, this was my first trip to The Bluegrass State, an eye-opening, eyebrow-singeing voyage to photograph the semi-annual Machine Gun Shootout in the sticks outside of Louisville.

Perhaps Kentucky should be renamed The Scorched Earth State? Just sayin’…

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Honestly, I’ve been trying to determine if this is in fact a sport. Slaby says the shooters say it is. And who’s to argue with Slaby? That’s right, no one.

I met one local man at the shootout who argued that this wasn’t a sporting situation. His rationale was that it was simply about blowing shit up. (Duh.)

But in the same breath, he considered other forms of target shooting a sport. Hm. I saw no difference.

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This is definitely an interesting – and FUCKING LOUD!! – spectator sport. Glad someone smart (me) remembered to bring earplugs for all of us. I saw some yahoos that toughed it out without. Or perhaps they couldn’t hear anything anymore anyway.

Each afternoon, during a break in action, they opened up the shooting race for folks to wander, see obliterated, burning vehicles close up, and to collect surreal souvenirs.

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As with every successful photo excursion, I was in the company of cool foto friends. Eich and Greg Ruffing, above, and I had planned to, um, shoot this event a couple years ago. I had even flown in to The South, only to find out at the last minute that the event was canceled due to flooding. No such issues this year, as we regrouped in Louisville with Andrew Spear. Also got to hang out with L’ville’s own Fräulein Nina.

How do you say “Holla!” auf Deutsch?

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This is a 3-day weekend event. On Friday, honestly, I wasn’t feeling it much. Ok, it was FUCKING LOUD!! And the setting was interesting, but something was missing.

On Saturday, I figured out what was missing: INSANE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE.

Day 1 was more for the die-hard gun lovers (mostly men). Day 2 was also for the families (men + women & kids). A bunch of guys blowing shit up seems oddly normal to me. But towing your wife and kids to the event, that seemed, well, weird.

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Access, as you can imagine, was pretty limited. I have a ton of photos of the back of people’s heads. And it wasn’t that I was trying to be in front of the action. But some roaming around space would have been nice. Needed to be a Magnum shooter to get that.

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The entire weekend, for me, was about the Saturday Night Shootout. I saw this video online before booking my ticket. It’s simply nuts.

For the record, they strap explosives to a dozen 55-galloon barrels of fuel. Takes barely a second for these cats to set this stuff off.

We were all trying to figure out, how do you expose for explosions in the dark? It went from pitch black to solar flares so fast, it was literally stunning.undefinedundefinedundefined

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You can always tell who the cool photographers are. They’re the ones smiling when taking photos.

And that’s how we met Thomas Prior, above, a fancy pants, film shooting photographer from New York City, who seemed to enjoy this surreal scene as much as we did. Or maybe even more.

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The tracer fire took things to a higher level. I do wish I could have gotten a better angle of the shooters, below, firing off endless rounds of ammo. I think there was something to be had. Alas, not this night.

One random thought: I wasn’t surprised by the turnout of gun lovers. Seemed about right. But what I was surprised about was the lack of excitement by the participants.

I’m not saying they didn’t have a good time, but there was something so mechanical and detached in their behavior, it kind of felt like watching hypnotized gamblers spending money while losing a night of their life stuck in a soulless casino.

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Before heading home, I got a chance to speak before a bunch of kickass college photojournalists at Ohio University in Athens. Showed them the book edit and waxed poetic about life and photography.

I went to U of Oregon (’94), which has no photojournalism programming of significance. Felt cool to finally be in that college, photo-j atmosphere – without the drawback of actually going back to school.

What these kids are doing at such a young age is quite remarkable. And inspiring. Was an honor to be asked to visit.

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Thanks to Eich and Andrew, both recent OU alumni, for showing me around town (Casa!). This trip was a blast.

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