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A Closer Look -- Paloma al aire

Paloma al aire
Paloma al aire is a funny little book. Spiral bound with cardboard covers (the front of which, unfortunately, has a propensity to curl), it is small in size with an oval cutout in the front cover revealing a portrait of a serious looking man. The book has an easy, informal feel, reminiscent of a personal album or scrapbook. Brightly colored pigeons, numbered yet still in a confusing assortment, grace the cover, but the true focus is the unsmiling visage of the man peering through. The full picture reveals him standing in a field, one hand on hip, the other holding a green carrier box. This is a book about men and birds -- though not in the colloquial sense. Ricardo Cases brings us to look into a type of pigeon racing specific to the Valencia & Murcia regions of Spain. The pigeons, each painted in its own identifying pattern, are released in chase of a female pigeon, the winner being the male who has succeeded in spending the most time with her.

The first few pages establish the premise -- the man with the carrier, a floor strewn with colored feathers, an ariel shot of a city with a red arrow indicating the exact location, an aviary of birds -- and then clusters of vividly colored pigeons. Wings and tail feathers tarted up in shades only seen on parrots, the typically drab pigeon is charmingly clownish in this getup.  They fly in flocks over the heads of spectators, through orange groves and between power lines, but also land and clump up in seemingly random places. 

from Paloma al aire
from Paloma al aire
Looking at pictures of clusters of pigeons with unusually bright plumage is entirely delightful, but the colorful birds never really steal the spotlight. Cases keeps the focus on the men as well, following them as they chase after their birds, retrieving them from rooftops, stone walls and various types of comcially prickly, tall and tangled vegetation. Here resides the sweetness of this book -- images of the pigeon fanciers tending and holding their beloved birds are interspersed with images from the races, and the book establishes an allegory between the birds, competing in a contest of manners and sexual drive, and their aging handlers. The majority of the men shown are in their middle to later years, and towards the end of the book two facing images invite an odd comparison — an aged ear, mottled in color and hairy, toothpick tucked behind, faces a pigeon, red-eyed and cutting a profile of virile regalness. The image on the next page shows a flock flying over a cemetery. Perhaps for some of these men, pigeon racing is an opportunity to display their own prowess through the actions of their feathered cohorts.

from Paloma al aire
The colors in Paloma al aire are rightly highly saturated — both the green of the countryside and the green of the pigeon's painted feathers pop on the page. While the spiral bounding is impossible to ignore, it grounds the book and surprisingly only detracts from a few of the many two page image spreads. The book is well printed, sequenced, and entirely captivating. -- Sarah Bradley

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by:
Martin Parr
Horacio Fernández
Alec Soth
Shane Lavalette

Purchase a copy here