All images by Agaton Strom. Used with permission.
In NYC, many folks hate pigeons. The birds are seen by many as pests and vermin that defecate everywhere and carry diseases because of the fact that they often eat garbage and scraps from the floor. But what many don’t know is that there are folks who breed pigeons on their roofs–and that’s the center of one of Agaton Strom’s photo projects. It’s a very old practice that is mostly gone these days–but some still in exist in the boroughs of NYC.
His documentary images capture a world not known to many NYers and may even give you a new view on the birds.
Phoblographer: In NYC, pigeons are often seen as vermin. But the art of keeping pigeons is one that is practiced in small numbers around the five boroughs. How did you go about getting access to some of these rooftops?
Agaton In order to get in touch with people who raise pigeons I read as much as I could and researched pigeon clubs etc. I also walked around the city and looked for pigeons flying overhead and knocked on doors. A lot of the pigeon fanciers are friends with each other and they sell each other birds and attend races so I pretty quickly got to know quite a few people.
Phoblographer: Where did the idea for the project come from to begin with?
Agaton: I was hanging out with some friends on a lazy Saturday in Brooklyn when I saw a large flock of pigeons fly overhead. The birds kept coming back and circling around until they landed on a roof nearby. I got curious because I had never seen pigeons fly in such a coordinated way before. After watching the pigeons take off and land on the same roof over and over I realized that there was a man on the roof orchestrating the movements of the birds.
So this project started like so many other ideas, my curiosity and desire to learn. Raising and racing pigeons seemed like such an antiquated thing and I was happy to discover that it is alive and well in the five boroughs.
Phoblographer: Gaining the trust of many of these keepers must have been hard. What was it like?
Agaton These people are proud of their birds and are quite happy to show them off. I also have a genuine interest and I think that my desire to learn eased any suspicions. That being said, not everyone was willing to be photographed or talk about their birds. Once I met Howard he introduced me to other pigeon enthusiasts.
Phoblographer: Tell us about the gear that you used for this project.
Agaton: This was shot back in 2010 and 2011. I used a Canon 1D Mark III and also the 5d. I think the lenses were a 70-200 zoom, 16-35 and a 50 of some sort. I decided early on to present this in black and white to give the images a timeless feel and an homage to the age of the sport.
Phoblographer: How did you find ways to get so close to the animals without spooking them?
Agaton: These birds are not wild. They are raised by humans and rely on them for food. They are quite tame and have a relationship with their keepers. I also believe that they are able to distinguish between people and can recognize their keepers. I took cues from Howard and the others and moved slowly as not to spook them and after many visits they were less scared.