Flying and Freedom: Images of Urban Birds

It’s quite rare for me to photographs birds so when I realised I’d captured birds in flight on two occasions in the past week it made me stop and think … why? Late last night I finished reading Cuban musician Paquito D’Rivera’s memoir Letters to Yeyito. In the coda he writes: the bird, which represents, precisely because of its makeup, the very symbol of freedomfrom infancy we learn …the loss or limitation of our right to move freely is the most feared and effective punishment applicable. I highlighted the paragraphs as it verbalised an instinctive feeling.

The photo below was taken on December 21, 2020 at Parliament Hill Fields in London’s Hampstead Heath on the eve of the winter solstice. It was also taken a few hours after Boris Johnson announced that London was going into Tier 4, basically quarantined from the rest of the UK and Europe. Households cannot mix and you are only allowed to meet one person and that has to take place outdoors. I had told my sons our Xmas lunch was cancelled and was feeling heavy with disappointment:

A couple of days before that I’d gone into the West End to look at the Christmas lights In Bond Street when I saw this abstract scene – the illuminated peacock feather juxtaposed with real flying birds:

With the stay at home order I cannot physically travel out of London at the moment but I can revisit my travels through images. I remember seeing this doubled representation of a pigeon in Venice a few years ago. A graffiti stencil meets its living counterpart on the Zattere:

Another stencilled bird – a dove or pigeon – seen on a wall in Tel Aviv last year. I tried to find out if there was any symbolism behind the graffiti. If anyone has any information, please let me know:

Back in London, I found this scene quite surreal. A window in Islington with oversized representations of pigeons combined with reflected dappled light and tree trunk:

Even closer to home, a couple of images taken at the same spot in Kentish Town. Below a photograph from November 2020 taken on a wet, windy day. The wind has suddenly blown the umbrella inside out and the mysterious painterly billboard from outdoor advertising company BUILDHOLLYWOOD features birds in flight:

Another moment of serendipity – at the same site back in 2018, soaring birds fly above a billboard stating THE POETRY IS IN THE STREETS:

Next a few images from London landmarks. A lone gull perches on top of the late artist Christo and Jeanne Claude’s installation, The London Mastaba, Serpentine, Hyde Park 2018:

I’d visited Trafalgar Square a couple of times in recent months and was struck by how much one it had changed. There were signs all over the place; no climbing on the iconic lions, and no feeding of pigeons. Because of Lockdown some sections were sealed off with No Entry tape. There was also significant police presence due to an impending demonstration:

In comparison, an old photo of me feeding the birds, taken by my father in the early 1960s. When I was a little girl we used to go there specifically to feed the pigeons, buying little cartons of food from the vendors:

I was in the Post Office today sending a parcel – the person in front was told that his parcel could not be sent as it was going abroad. It seemed symbolic – a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 quarantine – there is no airmail, no flight … for now we are tethered to our homes in the capital of this island. I understand and am cooperative, law-abiding and appreciate I am safe. It’s hard, especially in these short dark days. I miss my family and friends. I miss singing and dancing and the freedom to travel. Am I noticing birds because I too would like to soar above it all?


Also published on Medium.

6 thoughts on “Flying and Freedom: Images of Urban Birds”

  1. I loved it Mish there was something both poignantly personal and also somehow other-worldly about the image/text, and some of the images were really haunting

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  2. I don’t know how I found your blog but I love receiving these posts with your beautiful images and writing. Feeling very lucky to have found you. From Vancouver, Canada.

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  3. You inspire me to learn more about writing a blog. Your words are beautiful the way they complement your work. I love the way you are personal with your work, adding a genuine and authentic perspective. I enjoy every post I read! I kniw an ornithologist that lives and counts birds and their migration in Patagonia. His daughter always remembers being on the beach on the southern tip of Chile, with birds flying all around her, and her father calling to her.. count the birds Susan.. count the birds! ❤️

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