Pigeons Post

Detail from ‘Release of the Doves’ – see full image below

Pigeons were behind much of the dramatic increase in interest in photography in Britain as an expressive medium in the 1970s. It was the Coo Press, owned by Colin Osman, both a keen photographer and a photo historian, which provided the finance for ‘Creative Camera‘ magazine in the 1970s and the premises for the Creative Camera bookshop in Doughty St, where many of us made regular pilgrimage. (Osman had bought the magazine, then called Camera Owner and about to fold, for £1 in 1966) and the magazine, particularly with Peter Turner as editor and a great deal of advice – at least in the first place unsolicited and typically forthright – from Tony Ray Jones and some other photographers that edged at least a small section of British photography out of its comfortable and self-satisfied rut.

Behind me as I write is an almost complete set of that magazine, and on the shelves downstairs the annuals – including one with a set of three of my pictures, the first of my work published outside of the more strictly amateur magazines.

Town Meadow, Brentford, 1970s published in ‘Creative Camera Collection 5’.

(One of many paradoxes was that while those amateur magazines paid for photographs – at much the same rates as today – in Creative Camera you did it for love and prestige, as is still the case in some of the best photographic magazines, including Aperture.)

Camera Owner changed gradually into Creative Camera and continued to lose money, and it was the pigeon-fanciers who had probably never heard of it and certainly never read it who kept it afloat. Later, when Osman could no longer afford to subsidise his labour of love, the Arts Council took over the reins and drove the magazine into a cul-de-sac from which it only rarely ventured onto fertile ground. You can read the story in more detail (and doubtless more accuracy) on Roy Hammans’s Weeping Ash web site.

Once a year I photograph pigeons. Not for ‘Pigeon Breeders Gazette‘ or some other magazine, but as a part of the festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the annual Italian festival in Clerkenwell, London (once known as ‘Little Italy’) where doves are released as a part of the event.

Last year I struck lucky as you can see from the detail – at roughly 50% full size at the top of this piece. Three pigeons took up a difficult to improve triangular formation as I pressed the shutter; it was superb choreography. I’d quickly moved into a good position for the picture as the clergy got ready to release the birds, but then it really was a matter of luck, as the pigeons generally head up into the air at great speed when released.

The full image below includes on the left hand edge ‘Our Lady’ looking down on the clergy and to their right some of the watching crowd (and I think the bus stop adds something, showing clearly it is London.

Release of the Doves, Procession in Honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Clerkenwell, London, 2007. 

This year, however well I did I was never going to have the same luck, the doves were going to be something of an anticlimax, and so it proved. Either the pigeons were pesky or the priests who released them needed more training, for they failed to synchronise, and the birds only came together in the air a couple of hundred meters away.

The best of 3 frames taken in around 0.5 seconds before the birds disappeared

The release of the doves is a part of the procession which has evolved considerably over the years I’ve photographed the event, but still I think lacks something. As a considerably lapsed Congregationalist it’s perhaps surprising to have to point out that the missing element is liturgy, an appropriate and religious combination of words and actions, where the priests are in charge.

A countdown by an over-intrusive photographer (not me!) just doesn’t fit the occasion, which would be better served by a blessing with the release of the doves on the closing ‘Amen.’ It might just unite priests, doves, photographers and the crowds.

More pictures from the event on My London Diary – including more frames with the doves.

As always, pictures here, unless otherwise stated are (C) Peter Marshall and are available for use as high-res files

3 Responses to “Pigeons Post”

  1. ChrisL says:

    “they failed to synchronise, and the birds only came together in the air a couple of hundred meters away.”

    If they were missiles you could have cloned them in photoshop :-)

  2. :-)

    Some people have suggested I did in the top image, but it just happened, and they flew up and towards me, making them rather larger in the picture – I was shooting with a fairly wide angle – 18mm (27mm equiv) so those doves were quite close.

  3. ChrisL says:

    Perhaps you could have asked “The Sun” to do it for you.


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