CYPRESS — When artist Nancy E. Floyd read in the papers a few years ago that more women were buying guns, she wanted to know why. What she found out surprised her.
"I learned that the stereotypes about women gun-owners aren't true," said the Mission Viejo photographer. "They aren't these gun-toting, hard-core types who carry their guns everywhere and are paranoid about being attacked. They are just everyday-type people. Some are shooting for recreation, some are shooting for competition, some use guns for self-defense, some use them in their line of work."
All such shooters are pictured in "Stopping Power," the result of Floyd's attempt to understand fems and firearms by interviewing and photographing women who own guns. Her color portraits, on exhibit at Cypress College Photography Gallery, are accompanied by statements from her subjects, whom she asked:
* Why do you have a gun?
* Do you use it for self-defense?
* Are you worried about the risks of accidents, or more worried about being attacked, by a rapist, for instance, and without a gun?
"I wanted to put a face on these women," Floyd said in an interview at the gallery. "Let them speak, let them say why they have guns."
Floyd's crisp, clean images startle. There's sweet Karen Bowker. Smiling openly as if greeting guests for Girl Scout cookies and de-caf, she's dressed in perky white shorts with little red flowers and a matching top. But, there it is, the steely handgun she holds as if it were a potted plant.
The pudgy Rhonda Van Tassel exudes maternal warmth, but this champion shooter and instructor proudly presides over her gun collection, not family portraits.
More jarring is the photo of an unidentified pregnant woman, her belly quite distended, who confidently grasps a handgun by her side.
"I'm interested in women who have the power to stop someone (with a gun) when they're at their most vulnerable," Floyd said.
In her artist's statement, she writes: "I am not attempting to justify gun ownership, but some of the photographs do show the anger and frustration many women feel when faced with society's apparent indifference to violence against women."
Floyd's last major project, which explored the lives and families of workers at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, also sought to dispel stereotypes about folk most of us don't meet every day.
"I just like people," said the warm, enthusiastic 38-year-old artist, "and to get to know them and why they do things."
"Stopping Power," an ongoing project, has its genesis in the 1991 Gulf War, which revived memories of the brother whom Floyd lost in Vietnam. Curious about his affinity for guns--he'd wanted to be a gunsmith--she bought a .38-caliber revolver and went to a shooting range.
"I was immediately terrified, and I thought I couldn't shoot," she said. "I had never shot a gun before, and it's very loud in there, even though they give you these earphones."
Her timidity soon faded, however, as her interest grew, particularly in women gun owners who frequented the increasingly common "ladies nights" at local shooting ranges. She took a one-day course on safety and gun use, joined the South Coast Women's Shooting Assn., became a member of Armed Women Against Rape and Endangerment, a national group, and "then decided to go hang out at a Mission Viejo shooting range and talk to the women."
Lily Mendoza, the first woman she photographed, conveys a matter-of-fact attitude about guns in her statement, placed beside her portrait. Like Floyd's other subjects, she's smiling, clearly at ease holding her gun, a Sig Sauer semiautomatic.
\o7 "It's a .380 caliber, seven rounds," \f7 her statement reads. \o7 "It's very light. Actually, it's number one in that caliber. It's very accurate. Because it's very light, it's easy to use and it's so easy to be comfortable with. It's important that you know what your gun is and how to shoot it."
\f7 Carolyn Saul, who owns a .357 Magnum and a dog named Bumper, says a loaded gun in her house poses no problems:
\o7 "I would use my gun if somebody came into my house after me. I would have no qualms about using it because it's still a matter of my life or theirs. If somebody is trying to kill me and they happen to take my gun away from me and kill me, well so be it. I mean, if they were going to kill me anyway, I'd rather at least have a chance to try to save myself."
\f7 And Elaine Stryker, owner of a 9mm Glock, says her objective is sport:
\o7 "I have no intention of using (my gun) on living things. (It's for) target practice. But if I ever do have to defend myself, I know how. However, I hope that never, never comes, and self-defense was not the primary motivation for . . . purchasing a gun. I have found that since I did take gun lessons, my self-esteem has improved. Sporting-wise, to me it's not any different than shooting a basket through a hoop."
\f7 To get viewers thinking harder, Floyd has also staged photographic tableaux, three of which are in the exhibit.