Calling the shots

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The relationship between camera and gun - both are loaded, aimed and shoot their subject - is hard to ignore and, as a potent filmic symbol, utterly irresistible.

How many times is a film actor "shot" dead from the camera's point of view (virtually putting the gun in the viewer's hand)?

"Pulp Fact" at the Photographers Gallery has a field day with this most exploitable of conceits - and some of it is hard to stomach.

William Klein's iconographic shots of New York street kids "playing" with guns are the ultimate in disposable magazine chic, while Robert Yager's street gangs in LA have a grittier sense of sordid reality about them.

Richard Misrach's large-scale colour pictures are witty blow-ups of pages from Playboy magazine which have been used for target practice, and Peter Neill has lined up pictures of "found" guns like individual "scientific" specimens (right).

Then there's Larry Clark's extraordinary documentation of his own friends playing dangerous games with drugs and guns - one image has someone writhing on a bed having been accidentally shot. Taken in the 1970s, these are like out-takes from a film - the characters could be played by any of the Hollywood brat-pack.

No exhibition on gun culture would be complete without a Weegee - and here are examples of his flash-lit images of dead bodies in gutters in 1930s New York. But even the Weegees pale in comparison with the series of disarmingly theatrical anonymous images of murder scenes taken by the New York City Police Department between 1914 and 1918.

Joan Barker's series of "law-abiding" Americans at home with their guns is perhaps the most disturbing. This is the face of respectability - the gun as the last post of self-defence in small-town America. Some may find the sight of a man letting his baby son stroke the gun in his hand more chilling than that of the bloody murder scenes from the New York City Police Department.

Jane Richards

`Pulp Fact', 10am-6pm, Mon-Sat, Photographers Gallery, 5 Great Newport Street, WC2 (0171-831 1772), free. To 24 Jun

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