Modern Ornithologies

Modern Ornithologies at Pickford’s House Museum,
Format Festival, March-April 2017
Winner of Format Festival’s Habitat Award 2017


Ricardo Cases: Paloma al aire
Stephen Gill: Pigeons
Yohei Kichiraku: Birds
Anaïs López: No bird sang
Mark Mattock: Where rude boys never think to look
Martin Parr: Mark Goes to Mongolia
Maria Sturm and Cemre Yesil: For Birds’ Sake
Leon Reindl: Heartbeats in the Night

Reading Room Project:
Chris Coekin: Tak Two Coos

The word ornithology refers to the study of birds, but in this case extends to the many activities around the fascination with these animals and their world. The projects in this exhibition deal with the primal bond between mankind and birds, and the practices that arise from this complex relationship.

These projects go beyond the observation of the birds themselves, to explore the different contexts and stories around them. They are as much a study of birds as they are of people, cultures and the anthropocene, where both men and animals are trying to adapt to a changing environment. This exhibition includes photography and video projects from the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Turkey and Japan. These bird stories take us from New Zealand, across to China and Mongolia, the Middle East and Europe, making us aware of the global connections and resonances between them.

As well as experimental studies of birds and their world, the different projects in this exhibition present innovative ways of working with photography, moving image and sound. They all have been produced in the last few years, winning awards and being highlighted by critics for their originality, and also for the care and attention put into their final output, be it a photobook, sound installation or film.

Ricardo Cases’ Paloma Al Aire tells the story of pigeon races, and the different traditions around them in Spain. So does Martin Parr’s Mark Goes to Mongolia, accompanying pigeon breeder and racer Mark Evans to pigeon races and auctions in China and Mongolia. Stephen Gill’s Pigeons complements these stories, rather than showing the pigeon in our world, taking us in to theirs.

Anaïs López spent 18 months exploring the island of IJburg for her project entitled No Bird Sang. She followed Jean Poppers – a blind man with a special gift; he recognizes almost all the birds by their song and can find his way around this new island based on their specific sounds. Mark Mattock’s Where rude boys never think to look, is and a father-son journey into the forest looking for nightingales. His story is about the search for this elusive bird, but also about observation and photography, about reading seemingly invisible signs, and a coming of age tradition through bird spotting.

Maria Sturm and Cemre Yesil’s For Bird’s Sake tells the story of the birdmen of Istanbul and focuses on the relationship between them and their birds in a changing environment, where the tradition of keeping songbirds may soon vanish. Finally Leon Reindl’s Heartbeats in the Night explores the history of a rare parrot, the Kakapo -one of the few birds that can only be found in New Zealand- and the story of how conservationists have been trying to save the last remaining birds, with only around one hundred of them in existence.

Modern Ornithologies at Pickford’s House

For the exhibition at Format 17 I have been invited to display the photobooks and prints interspersed amongst the Museum’s collection of original objects and paintings by Joseph Wright. There is a clear connection between Ornithology and the Georgian era, especially here at architect Joseph Pickford’s house.

Exhibiting contemporary photobooks alongside historical objects has activated the collection, and has been great for both the Festival and the Museum’s audiences.

Summary video of Format 17 (Modern Ornithologies + interview on 14:50)

Press: Modern Ornithologies at The Eye of Photography

All images @ the authors