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Interview with Victor Schrager


Journal E
You received a Guggenheim grant in 1993 – what was the grant for?

Victor Schrager
Officially, the grant was to continue a project of 8x10 platinum/palladium portraits (of people) but during the grant period I began the bird project and it quickly took over.



Journal E
Why are you attracted to nature themes in your work?

Victor Schrager
I think I am consistently intrigued by the dialectic between “Nature” and “Culture” – it seems to come up again and again in my work, regardless of medium or approach to whatever ostensible subject is at hand.



Journal E

Why do you shoot your projects in black-and-white?

Victor Schrager
Although Bird Hand Book reproduces only black and white prints, I frequently use color materials as well. I generally prefer color prints to be much larger than the 8x10 contacts that can be made in platinum – in the case of this project although there is a lot of work in color I felt my intentions as to the hands and the overall gestures of the photographs were much more clear in black and white – moving away from the language of traditional wildlife and field guide photography.



Journal E

You must feel a strong connection with birds to begin such a massive project – what do they represent for you?

Victor Schrager
Actually, my interest at the beginning was in the birds’ names – the poetic and allusive qualities that their names present. I felt there might be an interesting irony between the vagueness of generalized bird forms and the specificity of the names. The fascinating detail and structure of the birds, in combination with the variable element of the hands quickly caused the project to take a different direction. When I began, I had no great expertise or particular interest in birds, and certainly not in the traditional practice of bird watching with binoculars, but observing birds from so close and intimate a vantage point (I say that I photographed the birds at the same distance that one reads a book) is a wonderful way to learn about them.



Journal E

Are there specific challenges related to photographing birds?

Victor Schrager
It is perversely difficult to photograph moving, agitated animals up close with a view camera, yet it imposes a worthwhile discipline and yields interesting results.



Journal E
Seven years is a long time to work on a project. It must have involved a lot of legwork – how did you research the types of birds and handlers you used in the book?

Victor Schrager
It was extremely difficult to find people who would let me have access to the birds. Some rehabilitators and banders were receptive, but many were not.



Journal E
How do you perceive the relationship between bird and handler?

Victor Schrager
It is similar to the relation between a sculpture and pedestal.



Journal E
The Bird Hand Book received high praise from both photo and bird lover/watcher communities – Did you think the book would be so widely appreciated when you were photographing it?

Victor Schrager
Yes – it always occurred to me that the project would be accessible to a broad audience. Unfortunately, many publishers were not so convinced.



Journal E
What did you learn while shooting this project,and what might you differently in the future?

Victor Schrager
I am sorry if it seems a cliché – but the sense of the whole project became very apparent to me within the first few moments of beginning it ( beginning to photograph that is, in stark distinction to thinking about photographing it ). It just took a long time to get it done. I don’t think I would do much differently with this project if it continued. The important thing is to keep the intriguing aspects, the parts that made the project so sustaining over such a long period of time, accessible to new projects with different issues.



Journal E
How did you light the photographs?

Victor Schrager
The sun.



Journal E
Were there special techniques used to keep the birds calm?

Victor Schrager
No. They were often not at all calm. Many people have asked why there are hands in the pictures. The answer, of course, is so the birds don’t fly away ( although this does not explain why I like that there are hands in the pictures).

 
 
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