The Pigeon Photo

I discovered this spot one day while cycling through town – part of a really big, crazy looking noise-abatement fence right up against the 35W freeway. Dozens of pigeons perched on top of it – doing nothing, looking off blankly in different random directions while being absolutely pummeled by wind, dust and highway noise. It made no sense because there are no food sources anywhere nearby and it’s miles from downtown. It’s the most exposed, uncomfortable and utterly pointless spot these birds could possibly find. Yet there they are, all lined up in evenly spaced positions and looking absolutely serious about it.

I thought: this is a photo – I’ll come back with a camera and get it as soon as I can.

Years went by. Every once in a while I’d remember the pigeons and make a new attempt. And every time, something would be wrong. A glaring sun, or a boring sky, or a truck in the way, or no pigeons today, sorry. There were trees behind me so I couldn’t stand back where I really wanted to, but I needed the wall to look straight and tall, and all the pigeons to be in focus. And it’s a part of town where you want to keep an eye on your car and not hang around too long. So a photo that seemed simple at first became more complicated over time.

For the next few years, whenever I drove down the highway and passed the spot I’d feel a little stab of guilt and think I need to get that photo.

And one day it finally came together. Good light and a fluffy, slightly goofy-looking cloud over the fence. A full cadre of these nutty birds lined up in evenly spaced formation, apparently in a good mood and ready to work with me. I had the lens, I knew the f stop, to get it all straight and sharp. I got the photo, the way I’d originally imagined it. Even better.

And not too long after that, a major reconstruction of the freeway was launched. Some of that wall came down and won’t be replaced for years. The pigeons went elsewhere.

Would anyone but me ever care about this photo? Probably not, but I like it and whenever I look at it I remember three things: one, I actually can set a photographic project for myself and carry it out successfully. Two: a photo won’t be there forever. And three: pigeons are weird.

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