Nancy Floyd straddles the worlds of art and photography as resolutely as she faces all of life’s challenges—fearlessly. In her forthcoming book, She’s Got a Gun (to be published this winter by Temple University Press), Floyd explores the world of women and guns in the United States in terms of history, sociology and personal quest. The project grew out of Floyd’s curiosity about her older brother’s passion for guns and his experiences as a military gunner during the Vietnam War.
After receiving her BA in photography at Columbia College, Chicago, and her MFA at Cal Arts in the 1970s, Floyd was equipped with the skills and radical approaches to create multilayered, mixed-media and large-scale works on issues important to her. She assembled a room-sized installation about her brother, mixing photography, text and sculpture—in this instance, using photography as memento, as witness. This memorial work of 1986 toured museums and veterans halls for several years.
During her years in California, Floyd visited gun ranges on ladies’ nights, photographing and interviewing a variety of participants, trying to break into this unique subculture that initially seemed politically alien to her. While some female marksmen were NRA members, others were history buffs who shot a variety of antique rifles and pistols in period cowgirl dress. Still others were drawn by the precision and elegant skill of the competition. Floyd began to shoot, training at gun ranges and joining official competitions in several categories.
Since Floyd’s arrival in Atlanta in 1996 to join the photography faculty at Georgia State University, she has continued to shoot (both guns and photographs) and to develop the research and photographs for her book. Using a medium-format camera, she has produced a document of changing attitudes towards women and weapons, as well as finely resolved images both timeless and timely.
Her series of sharpshooters training at Fort Benning for the Olympics exemplifies this best. Wearing guns, protective padding and eye gear (to help focus vision), the women in the photographs pose with the discipline and athleticism of ballet dancers. Each detail of their personal as well as professional toilette is revealed, from painted nails to diamond rings and mascara. The sitters’ skill set communicates violence, yet there is only placid concentration in these pictures. Airman Cady (2004), posing with the sniper rifle used during three tours of duty in Iraq, embodies the conflicts raised by Floyd’s photographs and subject matter.
Floyd’s work, which will be exhibited at Solomon Projects next spring, gives much food for thought about the artist, subject and our national politics at this historic crossroads.