[While I am baring my feelings in this post, probably to the detriment of my business, I’ve never been one to hold back. Want to know how I feel? Just ask.]
I’ve gone out to SHOT SHOW for many years now, more times than some of my peers, not as many times as the true die hards, but I think after five years I have a decent sense of what to expect. Every year, I have worked for someone else, writing, photographing, or promoting. This year, I wanted to experience the show wholly and completely for myself and Firelance Media. As I sit here in the days following the show, I realize I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I’d experience.
The Media world is strange. From the outside, despite the overall view that Media=Journalist, there are several different types of personalities, team makeups, approaches, and ethics involved. Some truly are world class journalists, some are bottom feeders, some are on their way out with the “old guard”, and some are on the brink of being the next big thing in New Media. There is constant jockeying for position, manipulation, probing for weaknesses or clients to steal, and an unending drive to get the exclusive story. On this literary Serengeti I find myself in the same situation as I did in high school: friends with all of the distinct groups, attached to none, and happy to be so. Such is the life of an “extroverted” introvert. Crowds give me anxiety and free-flowing teams of reporting mercenaries contain too much political maneuvering to keep straight. Without a team to work with or manage, without a specific story to cover, and being there alone without a travel partner overwhelmed me. SHOT SHOW Solo is a whole new world.
In the months leading up to the Show, I was on a mission to drop some pounds and stay committed to a healthy lifestyle. It’s essential to stave off my depression. To that end, going into the show I was at my lowest weight since high school, and I was feeling more determined than ever. But against all of my pre-show self-promises, there were a few nights where I dove into my base level vice: alcohol. I mean everyone there tends to sling a little whiskey, but I don’t like to over do it. So when it happens, it bums me out and I feel like I let myself down. No, there was no puking on a slot machine or anything like that, just some later nights than usual, an annoyed Uber driver, and a couple of wobbly steps back home. Vegas, baby.
Aside from those two nights of minor excess, by the end of the week I had seen my friends, made many new ones, met folks whose names I can’t recall because they became a blur of introductions and small talk in the aisles of the show, and I had wandered over 49 miles.
Amidst a few business related victories, overall the show felt different to me. Many folks seemed to be struggling; whether it be with business, personal relationships, or boredom. There were admissions of failure. There was backstabbing. There was body language that told the story that not all was as it appeared. There were confrontations over issues left festering for years. Everyone seemed to be less excited about the products out there. The complaints seemed endless and it appeared to be taking a toll on everyone. Perhaps that’s the state of the industry, and no one is willing to admit it just yet. I’m sure there were many folks that came out the show with their best year ever, but they seemed non-existent in my conversations.
With all of that looming, I decided to chronicle the show from a different point of view so I dove into my camera. Each year, despite having good intentions, I have tried to silently compete with all other photographers, trying to find the best shot, a different angle, or a better portrait in the hopes of getting some level of bullshit external affirmations.
I’m a bit ashamed, actually, of how much, over the years, I let ego get in the way of just being in the moment and appreciating what I do for a living.
So this year, I carried my camera, not to cover the products and take gigabytes of gun porn, but to capture the things at the show that struck me, spoke to me, or had some editorial significance. Some images I just enjoyed. I think it is only after seeing the show so many times that I could do this and feel unfettered. Hell, I paid for the trip, I’m gonna do what I want.
First off, I only shot in Black and White. I wanted an old school film vibe. Below is a gallery that represents a guy struggling all week to stay afloat, wondering if he should back out of this business gracefully or find a different angle of attack and march forward.
The outlook for next year is unknown at this point. Firelance Media isn’t going anywhere, but the desire to throw myself yet again into the SHOT SHOW fray is unappealing. Hopefully the passion will return. But for now, I am going to enjoy a lengthy period of sobriety and regroup to come back even stronger.
My sincerest thanks to the hundreds of people I spoke to at the show. Taking even 15 seconds out of your day to say a quick hello meant the world to me. Catch you on the flip side.
Matt Stagliano is a photographer first, and firearms / outdoors enthusiast second. His work has appeared in countless magazines and online outlets such as RECOIL, SKILLSET, Guns & Ammo, Concealment, Breach Bang Clear, Ammoland, and others. He spends most of his time running Stonetree Creative, a full service portrait studio in Maine when he is not on assignment as Firelance Media. Learn more about Stonetree online or follow him on Instagram (@stonetreecreative). On Facebook here.