Often seen clambering for scraps on city streets, pigeons tend to be an overlooked and even despised species. The birds’ ubiquity in urban areas, and their colloquial characterization as “flying rats,” have given them a lackluster reputation that Brendan Burden upends in his ongoing series of portraits.
The Ottawa-based photographer originally encountered the crest of the Jacobin pigeon, a lavish crown of plumage that wraps around its neck like a voluminous garment. “I had no idea pigeons could look this way and started doing some research and came to find out that there is a wide variety of pigeons, wild and domestic, many of which are quite beautiful,” he says. “I wondered whether I could apply more formal portrait techniques to these birds.”
After Ottawa Magazine commissioned him to shoot some creatures for a story on the Canadian Pigeon Fancier’s Association, the Fancy Pigesons series began to take shape. “My intention was to juxtapose the lowly pigeon with formal portraiture techniques and provide a new perspective on something ubiquitous, bordering on completely invisible,” Burden shares. Set against solid, paper backdrops resting in a large, show cage, the images evoke studio shots and capture each creature’s unique features. The Kormorner tumbler, for example, appears as if it’s wearing a turtleneck of brown feathers with a puffy collar, while the Moden’s gleaming, iridescent neck contrasts the soft, black and orange plumes of its body.
As Burden photographed the birds—all are in the care of fanciers and avian enthusiasts rather than breeders—he learned about the unique relationship they have with humans. Pigeons are likely the first species to be domesticated, a history reflected in Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and Egyptian hieroglyphics that suggest the practice was likely happening more than 5,000 years ago. He explains:
Had you asked me prior to undertaking this project, where they came from, I would have just assumed that they were wild and had some kind of symbiotic relationship with humans, like rats or mice or any number of other creatures. But in fact, they’re feral domesticated birds, and the reason they’re everywhere is in part because humans have been breeding them, often for nothing other than their beauty, for thousands of years.
As Burden adds to the Fancy Pigeons series, he’s shifting to photographing wild species, a change that requires more travel, time, and patience. “Being that they’re birds, sometimes you just don’t get what you hoped for and have to reshoot,” he says. You can follow his progress on Instagram, and shop limited-edition prints on his site. (via PetaPixel)
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