From scenes of gun violence that make the national news, to my 61-year-old mother suddenly deciding to carry, incidents of gun use haunt me with curiosity and fear. Having no personal attachment to guns, I am grappling with the present day societal reverberations and implications of the gun in American culture.

Aimee and Mike © Kari Wehrs

To create this series, I set up my darkroom tent and tintype gear at known target shooting locations in the Arizona desert. I meet gun enthusiast strangers and ask if they are willing to participate in my project. I create their tintype portraits, and when complete, I give them the option to use the image as a target. Some take part, leaving bullet holes in the plate. The title for this work, Shot, refers simultaneously to my use of the camera and the participant’s use of the gun.

Tintypes were the primary form of photography during the American Civil War—another time when the country exhibited vast divides. Soldiers often posed for their tintype in military uniform and with weaponry. My use of this form of photography in contemporary time elaborates on these connections to history.

Neco © Kari Wehrs

I view this project as a method to investigate and provoke both personal and collective consciousness. How might we need to reconsider this time in our history? When do/did our rights become our burdens? How do we want to think of our social or political opposite, and how might crossing uncomfortable boundaries potentially lead to positive change? How do we freshen the all-too-often predictable ‘gun debate,’ and instead pursue an exchange to reconcile our differences and move beyond our current impasse?

—Kari Wehrs

Editor’s Note: We discovered Whers’ series when she was selected as a finalist in this year’s LensCulture Portrait Awards. Be sure to check out all the images by other other winners and finalists here.