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Book Review: Wild Pigeon


Book Review Wild Pigeon By Carolyn Drake Reviewed by Colin Pantall Wild Pigeon by Carolyn Drake packs it in. It comes in five visual sections and the page size marks off each chapter. There’s also a little booklet stuck onto the back end-page that contains studio portraits photoshopped into exotic backdrops. Most importantly, the book is accompanied by a short story that gives the publication rather more than your usual photobook point.

Wild Pigeon. By Carolyn Drake.
Self-Published, 2014.
 
Wild Pigeon
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

Wild Pigeon
By Carolyn Drake. An allegory, retold through visual collaborations with Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Original story by Nurmuhemmet Yasin.

Self-Published. 128 pp., 9½x12¼".

Wild Pigeon by Carolyn Drake packs it in. It comes in five visual sections and the page size marks off each chapter. There’s also a little booklet stuck onto the back end-page that contains studio portraits photoshopped into exotic backdrops. Most importantly, the book is accompanied by a short story that gives the publication rather more than your usual photobook point. The short story's called Wild Pigeon and its writer was sentenced to 10 years for writing it. His name is Nurmuhemmet Yasin and he's from Xinjiang Province in China. It's a province that is home to the Uyghur people, a population who, like many Chinese minority populations, are not enamoured with Beijing rule.

Yasin's crime was to write a story about a wild pigeon that would rather die than be imprisoned. That gets you 10 years in China, if you're the wrong minority with the wrong religion in the wrong province. It's not good to be a writer in a police state.

Wild Pigeon. By Carolyn Drake. Self-Published, 2014.

The book starts with a lyrical and rather lovely travelogue through a sand-swept world of soft beiges and dove-whites. There are oases and walnuts and the curious; a man being pulled along a telephone wire? How does he do that? The desert, the dress and the architecture tells us we’re in China’s far West, in Xinjiang Province. The local Uyghur people are mostly Muslim and if you want to know how that's going the next section will tell you (if the fate of Yasin, the short story writer, hasn't already given you a clue). This is the part where Drake gives her pictures back to the locals to mess with.

Wild Pigeon. By Carolyn Drake. Self-Published, 2014.

This is what Drake says about the process:

“Traveling through China’s far western province with a box of prints, a pair of scissors, a container of glue, colored pencils, and a sketchbook, I asked willing collaborators to draw on, reassemble, and use their own tools on my photographs of the region. I hoped that the new images would bring Uyghur perspectives into the work and facilitate a new kind of dialogue with the people I met — one that was face-to-face and tactile, if mostly without words.”

Wild Pigeon. By Carolyn Drake. Self-Published, 2014.

And mess they do; rough scribblings add surprisingly poetic touches. A bare tree trunk is given leaves, galloping horses are added to a sandstorm desert scene. A low-rise cityscape tinged with blue has "the frist love is never forgetfull. I keep her in my heart" scrawled over it in red pencil. This is Wendy Ewald Gone Wild territory.

So there's text and sketches and fillings in. The desert gets a mosque and a pigeon is collaged into a construction of mosque, singer and a highway. It's vivid and it brings out the local view of what matters.

Wild Pigeon. By Carolyn Drake. Self-Published, 2014.

Words are brought into the pictures, and we get to the crux of the matter. On top of an image, Drake's collaborator has drawn a Chinese flag crossed with an American flag, "colony country" is written on one side, "Demacratic Countury" on the other. The picture is very simple; it's an empty frame on a mantelpiece. There's more writing in the frame; "Our wish: Communist China will be collapsed. Uyghour get indepandance. At that time Eeastern Turkistan set up good deplematic relation with USA."

And there you have it. It's not really such a gentle book after all. That's just one of the reasons why Wild Pigeon is unusual for a photobook. Another reasons is that it quietly but firmly tells us something about the world and in particular about Muhammet Yasin, a writer who, at best, is currently languishing in a Chinese jail somewhere for writing a story about a pigeon that wants to be free. So it’s not about the photographer. Huzzah!

Wild Pigeon. By Carolyn Drake. Self-Published, 2014.

And the final reason is that it's full of great photographs. Drake is a fantastic photographer, but she's not afraid to have her photographs 'destroyed' by her collaborators. Destroying other people's photographs is the mark of a great designer or art director, so in ‘destroying’ her own she's going beyond her remit. Great photographs, great design, great collaboration, a great message, and not a hint of solipsism to be found anywhere. It’s lovely to see.—COLIN PANTALL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by:
Melanie McWhorter
Martin Parr
Markus Schaden

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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