Aspen Times Weekly: Taking Aim

Andrew Travers | The Aspen Times

Window-shopping on Cooper Avenue, you may do a double take at a display of what looks like military weaponry inside the pop-up BLK MKT boutique.

Take a closer look and you’ll find the inventive and inspired assemblage sculptures of Jason Siegel. Titled “Shoot Portraits Not People,” the installation includes four works of camera parts assembled into the shape of guns.

The photographer’s tools have been recast into a sniper rifle, an assault rifle, a tactical firerm and a 50-caliber machine gun. These Frankenstein-ian creations are made up entirely of welded-together cameras, lenses, light meters, tripods and the like – the machine gun is loaded with ammunition rounds made of film canisters.

At first glance, they’re alarmingly gun-like – realistic enough, in fact, that Aspen police officers recently visited BLK MKT, responding to a report of the shop illegally selling guns.

“They came in and had a big laugh,” Siegel told me on a recent afternoon at BLK MKT. “I think that’s great. That’s exactly what we’re going for.”

The installation – reminiscent of the memorable “Guns in the Hands of Artists” group show from 2015 at the Aspen Institute – aims for common ground on guns. As pointed as the title “Shoot Portraits Not People” may be, Siegel hopes the work can reach people on all sides of the national gun control debate.

“It’s meant to be provocative,” he says, “whether you’re a gun enthusiast or you’re anti-firearm. A lot of people are walking into the store because they see it in the window. A lot of people are also not walking into the story because they see it in the window.”

The installation has other militaristic touches – there are jungle plants and an Army green Royal Enfield motorcycle. There are gasmasks with camera lenses as breathing holes, grenades fashioned from flashbulbs, ammo cans full of film and dog tags engraved with sculpture titles and prices.

Siegel is a Denver-based photographer whose portfolio includes fashion, concerts and world travel. Until this body of work, he’d never worked in sculpture.

“It’s been really nice to work with my hands and develop this idea and create it without just pressing buttons,” he explains. “I’m used to sitting behind my camera pressing buttons and then sitting behind my computer pressing buttons.”

The project began more than a year ago, when Siegel laid a bunch of his camera equipment on the ground in the shape of a rifle, snapped a photo of it, and posted it on Instagram.

“Everybody loved it,” he says. “I thought, ‘Damn, this is really tight.’ I’ve got to figure out a way to put these together.’ But I was so overwhelmed by the idea that I put it off.”

He finally got to work on it when BLK MKT founders Sam Steen and Mike Delaney told him they were reviving the pop-up in Aspen this winter in the former Boogie’s Diner building, and invited him to show some of his work there. He’d befriended the pair through their Denver warehouse parties. When he told Steen and Delany about his camera-gun idea, they put Siegel in touch with Carbondale native Keith D’Angelo. A metalsmith and fire sculptor now based in Denver, D’Angelo helped make Siegel’s vision a reality by fusing together the camera parts (a video on Siegel’s website offers a glimpse of the heavy industrial process).

“I literally brought this box of camera equipment to Keith and said, ‘Hey man, how can we put this together?’”

Siegel ended up collecting some 150 pounds of old camera gear for the sculptures. He has already sold three of the four guns in the show, but is planning to make 10 more of them for another exhibition (he’s on the hunt for camera parts, contact Siegel if you’ve got gear to give).

The artist came to Aspen to open his show in early January. The stay was only supposed to last a few days, but he’s stuck around to talk to people about his work and to be a part of the lively scene that’s exploded around BLK MKT and the Bird’s Nest Gallery above it. Both fill the former Boogie’s building downtown, and have become a hotspot over the last month for art openings, parties and happenings like regular “Nudes and Brews” drawing classes (Bassnectar, the DJ, tweeted an endorsement after visiting during X Games weekend: “if u in aspen & u a freak check out the BLK MKT”).

Siegel’s show is scheduled to stay up until Feb. 24, when the pop-up BLK MKT and the Bird’s Nest are expected to close and make way for a redevelopment of the Boogie’s building.