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Bird Watching
Paula McCartney, Darius Himes, Karen Irvine

ISBN 9781568988559
Publication date 03/01/2010
8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm), Hardcover
120 pages, 40 color illustrations, 5 b/w illustrations
Rights: World; Carton qty: 18; (346.0)

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You have now before you a representation of one of the most richly coloured of birds, and one whose history is in some degree peculiar. --John James Audubon, The Birds of America

A spotted wren perches on the limb of a pine tree in a field of daisies. A song sparrow stands ready to take flight from a snow-covered limb against a winter landscape. For many, these descriptions depict quintessential experiences of nature. As photographs in a bird-watcher's field journal they become something else entirely. Precious and desirable for being so rare, they transform into a kind of trophy that rewards the bird-watcher for his or her skill, tireless patience, and mastery over nature. At first glance, conceptual artist Paula McCartney's Bird Watching seems to be a most exemplary specimen of a bird-watching journal. Handwritten notations recording species, location, size, and markings describe well-rendered and flawlessly composed photographs of a wide variety of passerines, or perching birds, in their natural settings in locations across the United States. Page after page of the most wonderfully diverse species of birds are perfectly posed in picturesque natural settings--a bird-watcher's dream.

On second glance, however, the birds appear a bit too carefully arranged amid the tangle of brush and branches. An even closer look reveals stiff wire protrusions mounting each bird to its perch, matted tufts of overdyed faux feathers forming wings and splashes of paint creating eyes and beaks. McCartney has activated her atmospheric landscapes by adding synthetic decorative birds purchased at craft stores. This startling revelation has you wondering if the artificial might ultimately be more satisfying than the natural. Part document and part fiction, Paula McCartney's Bird Watching is a fanciful, homespun field guide to a woodland twilight zone where our unconscious need to control nature is indulged and our search for an unattainable ideal natural experience is fulfilled. Featuring a design that mimics the tactility of a real bird-watching journal and including essays by Darius Himes and Karen Irvine, this book will appeal to the dreamy naturalist in all of us.

Paula McCartney is a photographer and book artist based in Minneapolis whose work has been exhibited nationally and is held in private and public collections. Darius Himes is a writer, photography critic, and founding member of Radius Books. Karen Irvine is a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago.


Editorial Reviews

Photo Eye Magazine:
"McCartney's images of birds are perfect, pastoral scenes of exquisite composition at first glance they reveal an almost too-perfect moment of feathered repose, as if McCartney has some special access to Audubon's dreams. On closer inspection however, they are too perfect elements of artifice become apparent, the birds are a bit patchy, wires protrude in many ways this revelation only brings them closer to Audubon's legacy, who's iconic images were also made from preserved specimens. Bird Watching is beautifully designed and printed, featuring texts from Darius Himes and Karen Irvine"

Rain Taxi:
"McCartney plays both naturalist and artist, enacting both roles with such enthusiasm that the lines between them are almost completely blurred." — Andy Sturdevant

Ivanhoe Books Art and Design:
"This book is kind of similar to the Jean-Luc Mylane book I posted about a while ago, except, these birds aren't real!!! Paula McCarthy fills her landscapes with artificial birds she buys at craft stores and on ebay. I was fooled for a while. Tricky Paula McCartney."

Photo Eye Magazine:
"McCartneys first trade edition, published by Princeton Architectural Press, will be welcomed by individual collectors interested in McCartneys work, as it is both affordable in comparison to her artist books and beautiful." — Larissa Leclair

Photo News Agency:
"A bird watchers dream comes to life via Paula McCartneys Bird Watching series in her first solo show in New York. The opening reception for Paula McCartneys Bird Watching will be Wednesday, March 3, from 68pm, the exhibit runs from March 4 to April 23, 2010 at Klompching Gallery, New York. An in-conversaton between Paula McCartney and Darius Himes of Radius Books, followed by a book signing will be held in the gallery on Saturday, March 6th from 12pm. Bird Watching is also a newly released book published by Princeton Architectural Press."

"Speaking of birds, love this photograph by Paula McCartney, who has a new book out as well as a show opening in NY at Klompching Gallery tonight." — Ellen Rennard

The Photo Book blog:
"McCartneys photobook is a delightful mix of landscape photography with charming double-takes, with a witty, if not outright humorous, captions and commentary that continues in character, and provides an overall fun experience. This is one photobook that I am very happy that I gave a second chance and a photobook that I can definitely recommend."

Possibilities Deeply Seeded Within the World, Englewood Review of Books:
"Constructing these photographs, McCartney acknowledges a desire for a romanticized view of the land and nearly gives it to us, but by including these fake birds, acknowledges that this romanticism is something of an ideal itself. It is in this disclosure, though, that Bird Watching is so successful." — Brent Aldrich

On and Off the Walls: Flights of Fancy, The New Yorker Photo Blog:
"A few weeks ago, on one of those dark winter days when I was longing for spring to finally arrive, a most beautiful book arrived on my desk: Bird Watching , by Paula McCartney, published by Princeton Architectural Press." — Elisabeth Biondi

Foam Magazine:
"McCartney operates at the edge of deceivability, mounting her models into our ideal landscapes and captivating us with her rich presentations of actual landscapes."

"There is a slyness to this entire project that is continued to the very end, where [McCartney] juxtaposes close-ups of the birds in a formal life list. And yet for all its humor, this is serious photography."

Foam Magazine:
"McCartney operates at the edge of deceivability, mounting her models into our ideal landscapes and captivating us with her rich presentations of actual landscapes."

"There is a slyness to this entire project that is continued to the very end, where [McCartney] juxtaposes close-ups of the birds in a formal life list. And yet for all its humor, this is serious photography."

Mocoloco Art:
"Beautiful book, excellent photography, creative design, and... fake birds. No, not real birds. Photoshopped in, but little masses of styrofoam and feathers that have been artfully wired to the perfect branch. And that's what makes this book a real prize." — Sabine7

Everybody Funny:
"Given the ability of photographers to Photoshop their bird and nature pictures, to remove twigs and branches, add or remove items, change the backgrounds, the lighting, the position of the sun, etc., it's curious to compare how an artist purposely manipulates a scene the way McCartney does with the purposeful manipulation of a scene after it's been captured on film, as many nature photographers do. What's the difference, besides the fact that McCartney's birds are fantastical fictions?" — MJB

Birds on Demand: Paula McCartney at KLOMPCHING Gallery, 20 x 200: A Jen Bekman Project:
"Princeton Architectural Press has just published Paula's first monograph, Bird Watching, featuring essays by HHS! panelist and founding member of Radius Books Darius Himes and Karen Irvine, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. The book is truly that rare object which serves up an extra-something-special not immediately available for consumption on the gallery walls." — Stacy Oborn

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