- Fido | Andrew Garn | Photograph | 2015
To most people, pigeons are pests—but Andrew Garn is not most people. Despite their outsize contribution to human history—domestically, religiously, and militarily—pigeons are often flippantly referred to as "rats with wings." Whether it's still portraits or birds in flight, Garn's photography offers a new perspective that's full of curiosity, humor, and humanity.
The New York City-based photographer first learned about his craft during an afterschool program at his junior high. Under the tutelage of their teacher, Garn and his classmates photographed each other, and learned to develop and print black-and-white film in a spare basement utility room—a process Garn found magical then and still finds magical now. "I was immediately smitten with the process of camera-based image making," he says.
While his heart ultimately lies in documentary photography, Garn is not afraid to experiment with different subjects. Alongside his bird and pigeon photos, his portfolio also includes images of prisons, industrial areas, plants, bugs, subways, and portraits. After a successful career at major magazines, Garn began a totally different career journey nearly a decade ago: bird photography. "One consistent theme in my work is to show the invisible and under-appreciated in a new light that startles and surprises viewers," he said. "The New York Pigeon project fits neatly into this approach. I am taking this everyday, ubiquitous bird into a studio to isolate and highlight its beauty."
Fido, the camera-loving pigeon who graces this month's cover, was found wandering beneath an elevated train in Queens. Suffering from neurological damage that afflicts many city-dwelling pigeons, Fido was brought into the Wild Bird Fund (WBF)—New York City's only wildlife rehabilitation facility where Garn volunteers. After bonding quickly with the WBF staff, Fido was deemed unfit to assimilate into a feral flock and was adopted by a couple in Queens. With his unusual bulging eyes, long neck, and inquisitive expression, Fido seems to embody everything Garn wants to convey through his bird photography. "I think that pigeons are humorous birds; they have so much personality. They have attitude, and each one is pretty unique—you can compare them to humans very easily," he said. "I wanted to try to capture [Fido] as best I could. There's no other pigeon I've seen that looks like him."
Garn's latest book, The New York Pigeon: Behind the Feathers (2018, powerHouse Books), features eight years of photographs and the 5,000-year history of the feral pigeon. With the book, he has two goals: to raise money for the Wild Bird Fund and get people to think differently about pigeons. "Birds are just incredible—they are evolutionary marvels," Garn says. "I would sort of challenge anybody who doesn't care about pigeons or maybe doesn't even like pigeons to look at the pictures and see what they think after that. I don't think you could look at pigeons the same way after that."