ron reeder

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These images are part of a portfolio titled “Birds and Bones”. It is inspired by a love of birds and the knowledge that their lives are ephemeral and short-lived. My wife and I watch the nesting activity each Spring, knowing that most hatchlings will never make it through the first year. In fact, recent news reports tell us that all across North America bird populations are in decline, under severe pressure from development and relentless habitat destruction by humans. To my eye, this mortality seems reflected in the fine, fragile details of their structure.

The raw material for a portfolio of this type is abundant if you look for it. We find birds that have flown into windows, or have been killed by cats. Friends bring us road kill and the contents of failed nesting boxes. Feathers from molting birds float down from the trees. It is all grist for the camera.

I find birds in death to be as beautiful as they are in life. Since they are engineered for flight, bird bones tend toward extreme lightness and delicacy. For small birds, such as kinglets and sandpipers, their bones look like they will blow away in a puff of air. On the other end of the scale, the beak and talons of a Great-horned Owl look like the flesh-ripping tools of a small dinosaur (from whom they are descended, of course). The problem is to photograph these remains in a way that captures their inherent elegance and beauty.

If I had been born in the 19nth century I might have chosen a career as a field naturalist. I started off in that direction since I collected beetles as a kid and my father was a Christian minister (both excellent credentials for budding naturalists in the mid 1800’s). Most 19nth century biologists were also excellent artists because they had to illustrate their scientific papers with their own drawings. Nowadays a camera is the more popular recording device but in this portfolio I have consciously tried to emulate the look and feel of Victorian era scientific illustrations.

To further the antiquarian look, these prints are made in a process called “Gum Bichromate over Palladium” that was popular in the late 1800’s. A sheet of watercolor paper is hand-coated with a layer of sensitized palladium solution and exposed to ultraviolet light through a large negative the same size as the final print. After processing the dried palladium print is coated with a layer of gum arabic and watercolor pigment, dried, and re-exposed to ultraviolet light through a second negative. In regions exposed to ultraviolet light the gum hardens and becomes water insoluble. The print is then floated on a tray of warm water and the unexposed gum (plus pigment) washes away. The process is highly archival but lends an air of hand-made antiquity to the image. Because so much hand-work is involved in each print it is nearly impossible to make two prints that look the same. For this and other reasons images in this portfolio are not editioned. Each is essentially a mono-print.


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