How I took a self portrait with an air rifle

Posted by Colin

Where: Shoot! Existential Photography, Photographers’ Gallery, Ramillies Street, W1
When: 10/11/12 (runs until 6th January 2013)
Cost: £2 entry, plus £3 for 4 air rifle pellets (optional)
Twitter: @TPGallery

It is not everyday that you can take a photographic self portrait using an air rifle – but that’s exactly what I did last Saturday. I was following in the footsteps of those who indulged in the popular early 20th century fairground attraction of the photographic shooting gallery. Successfully hit the bullseye of the target and the impact triggers a camera to capture you in your shooting pose.

Me shooting at the target

This is the premise for the latest exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery round the corner from Oxford Circus. It traces the story of the activity from its origin in fairgrounds through to professional artists deliberately using the technique to create their work. The story includes such famous names as Jean-Paul Sartre.

However, the highlight of the exhibition is a set of sixty images all taken at fairground shooting galleries by Ria van Dijk. Starting in 1936, she took an image of herself in this novel way every year right through to her eighties. It was fascinating to see this study of how one person changes year by year.

My target card showing my two shots

What was particularly cool was that I was able to follow in Ria’s footsteps by trying to take a similar picture of myself – the corner of the top floor of the exhibition had been turned into a mini rifle range.

For £3 I had the chance to fire up to four pellets at the target, with a bullseye winning me a photo of my efforts. So popular was the idea that there was a large queue to try it out.

Having seen half a dozen people miss the bullseye, the gentleman before me hit it with his first shot. No pressure then. My first shot just missed the bullseye but I hit with my second, and I got my photographic memento.

A great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The Gallery is a sanctuary away from the hurly burly of Oxford Street and, with its cafe, it would a great place to grab a coffee. At £2 entry to the exhibition (and free entry to the rest of the gallery) it is fantastic value. The bookshop in the basement is also worth a look with a great selection of coffee table tomes and photographic gadgetry.

Having never heard of photographic shooting galleries, it was fascinating to learn about their history. It was even better that you could do it for yourself. A rifle range in a photographic gallery – a brilliant touch.


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