The latest celebrity-with-gun-accessory photos we're talking about are Terry Richardson's disturbing shots of Lindsay Lohan, which the photographer took down from his blog after they started to get "negative attention." I'm using quotes because I'd venture to guess that that's precisely why Richardson took them down. After all, negative attention is sort of his calling card: Better to tacitly acknowledge something weird about them and remove them—thereby generating more attention—than to act like all is hunky dorky; at least this move keeps people talking, right? (Admittedly, us included.) Plus, it's not like Richardson's photos have been erased from the Internet (see above, at right). For the record, people are saying he might have taken them down because he ripped off Tyler Shields, who shot his own rather yuck Lohan-plus-gun images in 2010. But Richardson is only the most recent photographer in a long line of those using celebrities with guns to their heads. These kinds of photos have a history stemming back to a time before Lohan was even born.
How many of these have we seen, at this point? Lohan herself has posed for no less that two others, including in 2007 for Radar, where I worked at the time (cover image above), and, as Jezebel's Jenna Sauers wrote, those gunplay photos "with noted troll Tyler Shields in 2010...because there is nothing new under the sun." Nothing, indeed. Sad that the photography industry has fallen upon such hard times. As for the images in this category that don't involve Lohan (and if we want to feel worried about Lohan, we hardly need these photos), there are too many to count, taken both professionally and informally. To name just a few, of different varieties: Kurt Cobain, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, 50 Cent, Eminem, Eminem again, Sean Penn (with finger gun), Taylor Momsen, and perhaps most idiotically, Heidi and Spencer. That's hardly a conclusive list, but we can agree that the worst of all of these are the ones in which the object of the photo, depicted as "on the verge" in the photo, actually goes on to kill or harm him or herself—or possibly, as in the case of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho (a non-celebrity who became infamous through murder), 32 others.
There are a few ways to look at these photos and they're all disturbing. Maybe you look at them as a manipulation of a conflicted, vulnerable, and maybe even exploited celebrity. They're always at heart a manipulation of the viewer, whom the photographer hopes will be rankled into shock or horror or some other handwringing emotion—hopefully not admiration—through the work. Are we, in some cases, supposed to take them as a cry for help? And what to do, if so? Beyond that, maybe you're bothered by how rote this schtick has become, the lack of creativity evidenced, that faint, apparent hope of the picture-taker that it will still give a viewer pause. And even beyond that, perhaps you're concerned about how numb we are to guns and people holding them to their heads nowadays, anyway.
The one response there's not with regard to these pictures is a feeling of, Wow, isn't that new! or any evidence as to how they further the conversation or make us think. At this point they serve as a kind of cultural wallpaper that we'd be better off stripping off before we re-envision our celebrities as something new, something interesting. Maybe once, like the old "Demi Moore pregnancy pose," this sort of shot was innovative or evocative. Now it's just another lame gimmick from those who hope to shock but end up looking mediocre at best—sad, even tragic, at worst.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.