606 pages, 367 b/w photos
In 1936, an American ornithologist named James Bond published the definitive taxonomy Birds of the West Indies. Ian Fleming, an active bird-watcher living in Jamaica, appropriated the name for his novel's lead character. He found it "flat and colourless", a fitting choice for a character intended to be "anonymous. . . a blunt instrument in the hands of the government". In Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies, Taryn Simon (*1975) casts herself as James Bond (1900–1989) the ornithologist, and identifies, photographs, and classifies all the birds that appear within the twenty-four films of the James Bond franchise. The appearance of many of the birds was unplanned and virtually undetected, operating as background noise for whatever set they happened to fly into.
Simon's ornithological discoveries occupy a liminal space – confined within the fiction of the James Bond universe and yet wholly separate from it. The birds flew freely in the background of the background, unnoticed or unrecognized until they were catalogued by Simon. Sometimes indecipherable specks hovering in the sky or perched on a building, these birds will never know, nor care, about their fame. In their new static form, the birds often resemble dust on a negative, a once common imperfection that has disappeared in the age of Photoshop. Other times, they are frozen in compositions reminiscent of genres from photographic history. Some appear as perfected and constructed still lifes, while others have a snapshot quality. Many appear in an obscured, low-resolution form, as if they had been photographed by surveillance drones or hidden cameras. These visual variations are also affected by feature film's evolution from 35 mm to high-resolution digital output. This taxonomy of 331 birds is a precise consideration of a new nature found in an alternate reality.
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