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Portrait of a Dead Pigeon

dead pigeon

You can imagine the gawks and stares and gasps from the swarm of people parading the sidewalk while I crouched, trying to get the perfect angle without actually touching the pigeon.  I wanted to touch the pigeon.  I’m not squeamish.  Had the pigeon been on a quiet street or in an empty park, I’d have had no problem either laying belly down alongside him or moving him so I could get the photo just right.  But I was on the corner of 42nd Street and 9th Avenue, probably one of the busiest corners in Manhattan (except for the corner of 42nd and 8th), and I didn’t want to cause a scene.

I am a connoisseur of dead things.  My obsession started when I was very small and was handed down to me by my big brother.  I’ve documented my love of dead things here and here and on a whim last summer I blew up several of my favorite dead animal photos and hung them on the wall in my living room.  I think they’re beautiful.

When I was a little kid I found a dead seal on the beach and I spent the whole afternoon at her side, sitting on my hands so I wouldn’t stroke her slick coat.  I went back every day for a week to see how she changed, bit by bit, how her flesh softened and sank, to watch while flies and crabs chewed out her eyes, her nose, her fins. Somewhere there’s a picture of me, gap-toothed and pigtailed, a stuffed rabbit clutched to my chest, crouched in the sand with my new dead friend.

In the city the dead things are pushed aside, flattened against buildings, sloughed into the gutter like so much garbage.  But they are not garbage.  They are lives that came full circle.  I want to pick them up and carry them home, watch them decay, save their bones and string them back together, set them up in doll houses or dioramas, treat them as treasures. Instead I take their picture.