New school shootings and police killings stir up controversy week after week, but in some places, the idea of gun reform isn’t so much as a topic for discussion. In one small Georgia town, guns aren’t merely accepted: they’re required. Kennesaw, population 29,783, is so overwhelmingly pro-gun that in 1982, the town reacted to the banning of firearms in an Illinois town by making their own law, requiring each household to own at least one gun.
Quebecois photographer and filmmaker Nicolas Lévesque read an article about Kennesaw and decided he needed to check it out for himself. A short film he made about Kennesaw opens with an interview request to the director of the Georgia Gun Owners. The director refused, returning a simple, ominous statement, including the line: “Our rights do not come from government, but from God.”
From his time there, Lévesque came away with a series he calls In Guns We Trust, showcasing the proud individualism of the people he met and spoke to. Looking at his stark, black and white photos of working class citizens with their prized weapons, it seems like what conservative pundits like to idealistically call “real America” has come to life.
Lévesque says this chilly welcome was not representative of his time in Kennesaw. “They were nice people. They were good people,” he says. “I didn’t meet anyone who I was scared of.” Many of the gun owners Lévesque spoke to were very proud of both the law and their firearms. These subjects included a man who runs a Civil War surplus store, photographed in front of his wall of Confederate flags, and a gunsmith who showed Lévesque how to entirely disassemble a pistol. Lévesque says he shot multiple guns every day on his trip to Kennesaw, including semi-automatic AR-15s.
Lévesque tends to photograph extreme environments, from nursing home residents to his current project documenting the intensely dangerous seal hunting culture in Northern Canada. When asked what appeals to him about these difficult subjects, Lévesque’s answer draws a surprising parallel. “When I was a photography student I did a lot of landscapes and architecture. I felt comfortable [with those subjects],” he says. “Documentary photography is very confronting, it’s a very violent act. You have to be good at this violent act.”
Perhaps he and Kennesaw’s residents have more in common than they might think.