Why are these old Spanish men colouring in pigeons?

Among the punk and fashion books, Martin Parr and Gerry Badger pick out one on bird racing in the Photobook
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A spread from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III
A spread from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III

The photographer Martin Parr and the critic Gerry Badger have covered all aspects of photobook publishing in their three-volume history, from Nazi propaganda to gay fashion guides. However, it is in chapter seven of Volume III, published this week, that the authors look at how modern lifestyle choices and identities met this photographic form.

Under the chapter title of Looking at Ourselves, the pair examine the books documenting 70s punks in London and the flamboyantly dressed kids of the Harajuku district in Tokyo. Yet it is another title, dedicated to a far less youthful pastime, that wins special praise.

 

A spread from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III
A spread from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III

The Spanish photographer Ricardo Cases' 2011 book Paloma al Aire or Dove into the Air is dedicated to a distinctly Iberian version of pigeon racing. As Parr and Badger explain: "male birds, brightly painted by their owners, are released to chase after a single female. The winner - the bird who spends longest with the female - gets his desire while his owner gets a trophy in a pastime that is eminently macho, although some might regard it as a classically displaced activity in the Freudian sense."

 

The inside cover from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III
The inside cover from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III

Yet Parr and Badger there's more to Paloma al Aire than sharp social observation. "Paloma does what many photobooks attempt but few achieve so completely," the write. "The book is a near flawless integration of fine picturemaking with appropriate bookcraft. As an object, with its stiff card covers, spiral binding and graphic excellence, it seems to reflect the sport, an activity almost surreal in its pointlessness yet no more so than many societal rituals. Cases makes telling use of the close-up, both to gently reveal the eccentricities of the aficionados and to celebrate the painted iridescence of the birds themselves."

 

The cover from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III
The cover from Ricardo Cases' Paloma al Aire (2011) as republished in The Photobook: A History Volume III

Find out more about Cases' work here, and for more stories such as this, pick up a copy of volume III of The Photobook: A History, here.


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