Book Review: ‘The New York Pigeon: Behind the Feathers’

In this post I review the glossy photography book ‘The New York Pigeon: Behind the Feathers’ by editorial and fine art photographer Andrew Garn.

Lola stands ready for her glamour shoot – she’s hoping to be in the UK edition!

I first came across this book by chance when a link to this article in the Guardian online appeared in my Facebook feed. The article was adorned with a small but striking sample of images contained in the book and it was these that first captured my attention, and what spectacular images they certainly are! It didn’t take very long for the article and the brief taster of the amazing pictures to convince me to put the book straight on my Amazon wish list and hubby kindly obliged by purchasing it for me for Christmas!

Far away from the common perception of the feral pigeon as the shabby, dirty ‘rat with wings’; The New York Pigeon is no shabby book. It’s hardback cover, glossy black dust jacket and arresting front cover portrait of poster-boy ‘Dr Brown’ would not be out of place on the coffee table of any chic city apartment.

The book features a preface from the author, where his affection for the birds is clear in his warm and detailed descriptions that express a sense of wonder and admiration for these humble creatures; and his desire through the medium of photography, to literally present the pigeon in a new light: the photographic studio. The preface finishes with the hope that the book ‘will promote a more positive perspective and newfound appreciation for these beautiful, clever creatures’, and it is difficult to see how the hardest of hearts could not be impressed by the luscious pictures of the feathered subjects, and the stories behind them.

The photography throughout is simply stunning; with all of the birds photographed against a black background, allowing the studio lighting to fully illuminate the astonishing array of colours of bright and expressive eyes and the myriad of shimmering shades of purple, green, blue, gold and bronze scattered through the feathers; all rendered in high resolution and immaculate detail. As well as portraits of adult birds, there are also breathtaking images of the birds in flight; nestlings, x-rays showing the bone structure and images setting the birds in the more familiar context of the city landscape.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the book, was learning that the author’s relationship to the pigeons is more than just that of visual biographer. When not working as an experienced editorial and fine art photographer, Andrew Garn is an experienced rescuer and rehabber of injured pigeons, and all the portraits featured in the book are of birds which have been rescued and rehabilitated at the New York City wildlife rescue centre, the Wild Bird Fund. The back of the book features a group picture of some of the staff and work of the rescue centre, supported by an article by Rita McMahon, executive director of the charity.

The Wild Bird Fund is clearly a force for the good of pigeons. In 2017, the charity expected to treat around 6000 birds, of which around half would be pigeons. This in itself is an incredible fact, but all the more unusual because many veterinary surgeries and wildlife rescues will not treat feral pigeons, despite them being robust birds that often respond well to treatment, even for the most serious conditions. It is great to see that Andrew Garn’s work may not only help to banish prejudice and change perceptions of the humble feral pigeon, but that a portion of the sales of the book will also go to support the vital life-saving work of the the Wild Bird Fund.

In summary, ‘The New York Pigeon: Behind the Feathers’ is a beautifully affectionate and life-affirming celebration of the feral pigeon; and pays tribute to the love and dedication of those that are working to rescue and rehabilitate them. If you love pigeons then I know that you will love this book; but I do hope that it is picked up by those reserving judgement, and their hearts are touched by the beauty and majesty of these intelligent and engaging animals. I congratulate Andrew Garn on an outstanding work.

Jem – The Crazy Pigeon Lady