An Unusual Book Of Birds


Thanks to Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose books I have read about but never read, this book above came to my attention with the photo below featured under the review’s title on the New Yorker website.

To Be a Bird

The photographs in Stephen Gill’s “The Pillar” encounter birds on their own terms.


A pillar knocked into the ground next to a stream in a flat, open landscape, trees and houses visible in the distance, beneath a vast sky. That is the backdrop to all the photographs in Stephen Gill’s book “The Pillar.” We see the same landscape in spring and summer, in autumn and winter, we see it in sunshine and rain, in snow and wind. Yet there is not the slightest bit of monotony about these pictures, for in almost every one there is a bird, and each of these birds opens up a unique moment in time. We see something that has never happened before and will never happen again. The first time I looked at the photographs, I was shaken. I’d never seen birds in this way before, as if on their own terms, as independent creatures with independent lives.


The review got me to seek out the book to see what it looks like; the picture at the very top and the ones below are what I found:


10180249_grande.jpgI see from these pages what the reviewer describes, and to the right is what appears to be the cover of the book:

What was shocking about it was that I already felt familiar with birds, as I imagine most people do, since we can hardly go anywhere without being surrounded by them in one way or another.Here, where I’m sitting, in London, if I turn my head and look out of the glass doors, two, perhaps three seconds will go by before a bird passes over the trees and rooftops. But this is precisely why they evade us. Either we fail to see them fully, because they are merely birds, or else we see them in certain preconceived ways—the majestic eagle, the wise owl, the crafty magpie. This is what makes Stephen Gill’s bird photographs so outstanding. To look at them is to come to a new place, a new land—a birdland. And this is so because these photographs were not taken by any human hand. No human was even in the vicinity when the images were captured, and therefore they exist outside the realm of our human feelings, outside our preconceptions, within the realm of the accidental, in the world of the birds themselves.

What Gill did was erect a pillar a few hundred metres from the house in which he lives, outside the village of Glemmingebro, in the area of southern Sweden called Österlen. Next to that pillar, he erected another, with a camera on it. The camera was equipped with a motion sensor, and the idea was that birds would settle on one pillar and be photographed automatically by the camera on the other. “I decided to try to pull the birds from the sky,” he said…

Read the whole review here.

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