Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Carrier Pigeon Photography and Passenger Pigeon Art

I recently got a portfolio of Audubon prints at an estate sale and in the set of 50 plates, there was a print of the extinct Passenger Pigeons (shown above). I've been really interested in these birds lately, and after remembering Walton Ford's piece "Falling Bough" and all the research that went into it (which can be seen on the season 2 DVD of Art:21) I can safely say that I have been inspired by these birds.

Walton Ford, “Falling Bough”, 2002
Watercolor, gouache, ink and pencil on paper, 60 3/4 x 119 1/2"
Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York

I am also especially interested in how carrier pigeons (not passenger pigeons) were used for reconnaissance in World War I - they were fitted with small cameras and were among the first photographers to take aerial photos in the early 20th Century. As many of you reading know, I do aerial survey photography myself so these pint-sized pioneers in the field of aerial photography are especially fascinating.

I love how proud and dignified these camera-mounted pigeons look.

(notice the wing in the corners of the upper photo on this article)

Via PigeonBlog, "In 1903, German Engineer Julius Neubronner combined a small analogue camera with a mechanical timer and attached it around a pigeon's neck. This innovative approach to aerial photography soon raised interest from the German military. Shortly thereafter, exploring the potential for secret aerial photography carried out by pigeons began in earnest. "

The idea of mounting pigeons with cameras has not been lost. Portland based artist/lecturer Amos Latteier recently mounted some pigeons with a digital camera. The slideshow (pdf file) from his "Report on Pigeon Aerial Photography" includes a brief history and examples of his experiments with contemporary pigeon aerial photography. Here is one of the photos he salvaged from a damaged pigeon camera:

In other contemporary technology-based pigeon news - the pigeon blog "provides an alternative way to participate environmental air pollution data gathering. The project equips urban homing pigeons with GPS enabled electronic air pollution sensing devices capable of sending real-time location based air pollution and image data to an online mapping/blogging environment. Pigeonblog is a social public experiment between human and non-human animals." Check it out.

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