Right Between the Eyes
Shoot! Existential Photography — Clément Chéroux (Ed.)
Book Review by Edward Welch
Published by: Revolver
Shoot! originates in an installation curated by Clément Chéroux at the Rencontres d’Arles in 2010, and explores the photographic shooting galleries which were once commonplace in fairgrounds in the first part of the twentieth century. Nicely concatenating literal shooting with its figurative, photographic counterpart, they were based on a grippingly simple premise: shooters who hit the target triggered a camera, and were rewarded not with a cuddly toy, but with a shot of themselves taking aim.
The first part of Shoot! reproduces some of these images, featuring ordinary fairground goers as well as celebrities including Jean-Paul Sartre and Gilles Deleuze. What’s noticeable in all of them is the disconcerting ease with which people handle a gun, squinting down the barrel with the confidence of a sniper (the exception being Simone de Beauvoir, who – equally disconcertingly – waves the gun around with her eyes tightly shut). That some famous existentialists were drawn to this fairground attraction is perhaps not a surprise, given the vertiginous glimpse of annihilation it offered: as Chéroux puts it, the device ‘provides the remarkable opportunity of creating a photographic representation of oneself whilst, at the same time, symbolically eliminating oneself’. The latter half of the book considers some more recent artistic projects inspired by the apparatus of the photographic shooting gallery, including work by Oscar Bony and Christian Marclay. Overall, Shoot! is a playful and thought-provoking invitation to revisit some of the more well-worn clichés associated with the photographic act.