There are times when photographers ruin your day. It happens to us all and there’s one such annoyance that I recall many years later. I’d positioned myself early, ready for the sunrise when another photographer put himself in my frame. He knew I was ahead of him in time but behind him in space. I called across the harbour and he squatted down, as if that would help. He might as well have said ‘Just a second’ knowing the exposure for his decisive moment wouldn’t last that long. But no, he brazenly stayed put for thirty minutes. My enduring decisive moment was just a quarter of a second and it’s lasted eight years and counting.
Ruining My Sunset was memorialised at the same time and date as I type this sentence but back 2013. I know we don’t own a right to a view just as I know this was uncharacteristically ignorant behaviour within the photographic community. Happily, a few minutes earlier, I got the sort of shot I planned and it made my day, despite the image-squatter by the boat shed.
This day two years ago, I was wandering around the Serpentine in London for a Sunday walk when I encountered my first painted tumbler pigeons. There, on the bridge that spans the remains of the Westbourne River, a woman was hiring-out the pigeons as photo props in exchange for a small consideration. She told me that she hand painted the birds herself. An ancient tradition in rural Spain, she said. I found an article online in The Guardian that confirms the essence of the story. She told me that she uses watercolours, painting the birds in her kitchen on weekend mornings and that she washes the colour from the birds on Sunday evenings.
I first encountered tumbling pigeons in Morocco. They were unpainted and I thought they had a disease or a deformity as they tumbled in flight. A few months later, I was driven home by a taxi driver in Dublin who raced expensive pigeons all over Europe. Not expensive like New Kim, the two-year-old racing pigeon from Antwerp who was bought for $1.8 million a few months ago. But expensive enough to loathe and want to destroy any pergrine falcons that might kill his prides and joys.
I mentioned the tumblers I’d seen and how I’d thought I was witnessing horrific cruelty somewhere in Casablanca. I speculated that, if not diseased, perhaps there was a mutant race of feral pigeons. Or that perhaps rejected racing pigeons were being dumped in Africa. He listened and told me that tumblers were bred to tumble. And the best tumblers were bred to tumble more.
We stayed with pigeons and his pigeon peregrinations around Europe. We also talked about the billions of passenger pigeons that once blocked the North American sun and then went extinct. He told me about Martha who died in 1913 and ended up in a glass case in The Smithsonian.
The last passenger ended up in a glass case? I wondered about that and while not expecting the same fate as Martha, the last of her species, I was somehow affected by the dark side of my imagination. Relieved to be home, I was overly generous in my tipping a man who might one day assist in reducing the peregrines that had recently reappeared and nested in a quarry near where we live.