Paula McCartney: Bird Watching features 18 prints from McCartney’s book, a spoof on scientific journals featuring stunning landscape photographs with craft store birds added as props. McCartney, a trained photographer, found it easier to bring her own birds to photo shoots to recreate the exact fantasies she had pictured in her mind, instead of waiting for live birds to perch perfectly for her. Her resulting photographs strike a tension between what is real and what is fabricated, something she ponders frequently through her works. In these prints, McCartney makes no effort to hide the fact that the birds aren’t real. She even adds sarcastic and witty captions for her photos like “both birds elegantly turn their heads toward the camera.” Visit the exhibition and see the beautiful photographs for yourself and see how well McCartney has blended real life and staged photography.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether or not you go, Bird Watching seems to be a most exemplary specimen of a birdwatching journal. A spotted wren perches on the limb of a pine tree in a field of daisies. A song sparrow stands ready to take flight from a snow-covered limb against a winter landscape. For many, these descriptions depict quintessential experiences of nature. As photographs in a bird-watchers field journal they become something else entirely. Precious and desirable for being so rare, they transform into a kind of trophy that rewards the birdwatcher for his or her skill, tireless patience, and mastery over nature. Handwritten notations recording species, location, size, and markings describe well-rendered and flawlessly composed photographs of a wide variety of passerines, or perching birds, in their natural settings in locations across the United States. Page after page of the most wonderfully diverse species of birds are perfectly posed in picturesque natural settings a bird-watcher's dream.
On second glance, however, the birds appear a bit too carefully arranged amid the tangle of brush and branches. An even closer look reveals stiff wire protrusions mounting each bird to its perch, matted tufts of overdyed faux feathers forming wings and splashes of paint creating eyes and beaks. McCartney has activated her atmospheric landscapes by adding synthetic decorative birds purchased at craft stores. This startling revelation has you wondering if the artificial might ultimately be more satisfying than the natural. Part document and part fiction, Paula McCartney's Bird Watching is a fanciful, homespun field guide to a woodland twilight zone where our unconscious need to controlnature is indulged and our search for an unattainable ideal natural experience is fulfilled. Featuring a design that mimics the tactility of a real bird-watching journal and including essays by Darius Himes and Karen Irvine, this book will appeal to the dreamy naturalist in all of us.