Sometimes photography is for the birds

Ray Roch, Magician, 1985

Ray Roch, Magician, 1985

Flights of fancy

You know how it is: you’re sitting down with friends over a glass of wine and a cheese plate, and the subject of avian accidents arises.

I’m not talking flocks of geese sucked into jet turbines, or even unwelcome sky presents on your best suit. The conversation in question began on the finer points of parrot maintenance.

Eventually  — as all good parrot discussions do — we took a detour down the well-worn path to Monty Python’s “Norwegian blue” sketch.

My contribution related to the image above, made 29 years-ago in my Vancouver studio. It was a small space—around 500 sq. ft. — but big enough to produce tabletop catalogue images (for clients like Mountain Equipment Co-op) and portraits for models, actors and entertainers.

When doves fly

The magician in the promo shot above is Ray Roch, a friend of my late father, who was also an adept prestidigitator (when am I ever going to get to use that word again?).

Anyway, the dapper entertainer turned up with the usual magician’s menagerie, including a cage full of beautifully-groomed white doves.

The bunny was well-behaved and (as you can see by his non-plussed expression) resigned to loll in the top-hat while I fiddled with f-stops, sync speeds and strobe settings. As an admirer of our feathered friends (a fascination I share with ‘60s iconographer David Bailey), I was eager to give the birds their 15-minutes of fame.

The magician lovingly extracted his prize dove from its cage, cradling it gently in his palm. I asked if he could get the bird to flap its wings. No problem. He balanced her on his finger, while I adjusted the shutter speed, slow enough to record movement, and ambient light.

Ready, set … POP! goes the strobe-light.

The startled bird took flight, heading toward me at Mach 1. Instinctively, I reached up and grabbed at the air. Not a good idea.

I succeeded in stopping only its fan of tail feathers, while the rest of the poor thing continued across the studio, albeit on a somewhat less controlled trajectory.

Luckily the bird was otherwise unharmed (feathers grow back) and Roch had a stand-in, preserved forever in the portrait above. Meanwhile, he was very indulgent about my ham-fisted attempt at bird control.

Technical details

The image was made with a medium format Mamiyaflex C Twin lens reflex camera, with 135mm lens, using Fujicolor HR 100 negative film. The uncropped scan above first required careful removal of the taped-on reversal film bearing the magician’s name and logo, used to make promo prints. (How we easily we add text to photos in the digital age!) Otherwise, the negative is still in good condition.

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  • Kathy Brown - Another impressive shot, Raymond! Love the detail in the dove.November 18, 2014 – 9:08 pmReplyCancel

    • Raymond Parker - Thanks, Kathy. I shot three rolls (x12), including a roll of B&W, but this is where everything came together. Yes, this is the age-old (in photographic time anyway) challenge of holding everything from the deep blacks of the tux and topper, to the whites of the shirt and bird.

      For this reason, I chose the more forgiving latitude of a negative film. Lighting was a soft box main light on the magician’s left, a silver reflector on the right and tungsten behind to light the backdrop and provide enough constant light to record motion in the dove’s wings.November 19, 2014 – 10:44 amReplyCancel

      • Kathy Brown - That sounds so involved when the photo came out so seamlessly!November 19, 2014 – 9:50 pmReplyCancel

  • Ray Roch - Love your photography.

    This photo brought back so many wonderful memories of bygone days. I fondly remember the photo shoot of my rabbit and bird along with their assistant (me)November 17, 2014 – 12:13 pmReplyCancel

    • Raymond Parker - Hey Ray! I’m glad you found this and that it brought you happy memories. As a struggling little studio at the time, I certainly appreciated the business. 🙂

      I do hope your star performer wasn’t kept out of the limelight for too long!

      RayNovember 17, 2014 – 12:41 pmReplyCancel


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