PDN Photo of the Day

Birds of a Feather

Pigeon racing in Valencia and Murcia in Spain looks like a Photoshopped invention – flocks of grey birds are tinged in red and turquoise, yellow and green. But the animals are neither a digital phantasm nor an exotic breed – instead they are painted by hand by their owners in a variation of the sport unique to the region. The birds and men who race them are the subject of Ricardo Cases’s series “Paloma al aire,” now on view at Dillon Gallery in New York until December 18. The series was published as a book in 2011 and reissued last year by Dalpine. (Cases, a member of Blank Paper collective, also has a book out from MACK – El porqué de las naranjas, which looks at tourism and financial collapse in the Levante region of Spain.)

In Cases’s particular version of colombicultura, a group of (male) birds are scored by how closely and for how long they fly near a female. Brightly marked to be identifiable from the ground, the birds become stand-ins for their owners’ prowess. “Painted with combinations in primary colors, just like flags and football teams, the pigeon selected, bred and trained to mate, becomes a projection, a flying vector of the pigeon fancier, which will represent his sporting, economic and sexual success or failure before the community,” writes Luis López Navarro in a statement about the work. While the birds scatter and clump across the sky, Cases pays tender attention to the men who raise and care for them, finding birds buried in the shirt and jacket of one man; others crouch or push through brambles in aid of their birds. Writes Navarro: “On the domestic scale of a rural and rather marginal hobby, pigeon breeding and racing offers us images of hope and longing which, out of context, take on a greater, universal, meaning. Men looking up at the sky, with their gaze trained on the flight of their pigeons, their life projectile: their bet, their bullet, their lottery ticket. Men looking up at the sky in front of their cars, their half-built homes, men looking up at the sky with their children-vectors holding hands.” Wrote The Guardian about Cases’s birds, “Were it not documentary reportage, this could be staged conceptualism.”

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