You received a Guggenheim grant in 1993
– what was the grant for?
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.
Why are you attracted to
nature themes in your work?
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.
Why do you shoot your projects in black-and-white?
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.
You must feel a strong connection with birds to begin such a
massive project – what do they represent for you?
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
Are there specific challenges related to photographing birds?
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.
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?
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.
How do you perceive the relationship between bird and handler?
It is similar to the relation between a sculpture and pedestal.
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?
Yes – it always occurred to me that the project would be accessible
to a broad audience. Unfortunately, many publishers were not so
What did you learn while shooting this project,and what might
you differently in the future?
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
How did you light the photographs?
Were there special techniques used to keep the birds calm?
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).