Neil Alexander

Growing Up in a Gun Culture, My Son - 1992-2104
Growing Up in a Gun Culture, My Son – 1992-2104


I’ve been making portraits of my son Calder since the very moment he came into this world. Lifted from his mother’s womb and placed on the scale, his pediatric nurse took a measuring tape to him. Click went the shutter. The two images in this exhibition, taken eighteen years apart, are the only formal images I’ve ever made of him naked and the only two of him holding a gun. 

 Though Louisiana is proudly known as the Sportsman’s Paradise, I am not a hunter. Despite raising a son and daughter in New Orleans, which to some is known as much for its violence as its vibrant culture, my wife Nancy and I never felt the need to own a firearm for protection, although we have close friends who do. A break-in robbery, two stolen cars, and friends who had similar experiences, never compelled me to change my mind and purchase a gun. Our kids were raised in a home where their dad shot photographs of the city and its people. 

In 1996, as a response to numerous, senseless and violent murders by young men in New Orleans, Brian Borrello put out a call for artists to participate in an exhibit he conceived called “Guns in the Hands of Artists.” My challenge was to create an image that was both disturbing and provocative, an image that challenged our culture’s values. I decided to make a portrait of Calder, naked, innocent, and holding a gun. 

 Has anything changed? In the eighteen years since I made that portrait I’ve attended three funerals for victims of gun violence in New Orleans. Two deaths were acquaintances of our family, young black men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The third was a friend, a talented artist and craftsman, who was shot in the back of the head after he dismissed a 14 year-­old boy who demanded that he “Give it up” in broad daylight only blocks from the 2004 Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. 

 Over the last two decades our nation has experienced unfathomable acts of gun violence perpetrated by young men in schools, movie theaters, homes, Shopping malls… the list goes on. Just one of these events should have been enough to generate a sea change of public opinion that would send a clear message to our legislators to write new sensible gun laws. Instead, the opposite seems to be true; guns are big business in our democracy.

 Our public discourse today is about protecting students by arming teachers. “Open Carry” laws mean you can go into a bar, restaurant, super market, or house of worship ‘armed and protected.’

 We live in a world saturated by guns and violence. Graphic content, unspeakable 18 years ago, is everywhere through a seamless delivery of news, video games and media. As a photographer, artist, and father I never imagined I would be creating this diptych. Now, my son and I present here, in this forum, a public declaration. Enough is enough!