Stephen Gill: The Pillar

November 22, 2020

This is a book that fascinates me. In 2015, Stephen Gill set up two 6cm diameter, 3-1/2 meter tall wooden pillars in his yard. He mounted a camera to one, and recorded the activity around the other with a motion sensor. “I decided to try to pull the birds from the sky,” said photographer Stephen Gill.

It worked. Birds used the pillar to rest, survey their surroundings, and feed themselves and their young. Gill was amazed at the images he captured of the bird community living their lives completely independently of any human in their midst.

The book brings up a few thoughts for me. First, the images are stunning. The birds’ movements, contortions, and interactions make each photograph interesting and different from the others even though they all feature birds. It’s almost like street photography of the bird world.

The more I look at the images the more I get a sense of depth and independence to the world where the birds live their lives. There are no humans around during the making of these images. The birds react to each other and the world around, but are not concerned about us humans. We are glimpsing a world where we do not belong.

I am also fascinated with the idea that these images were not taken with a photographer present (at least in the traditional sense). Is setting up a motion sensor akin to choosing the moment for a photograph? Does framing the pillar in the center of the camera view equal choosing composition? How much does the photographer need to be involved in the moment of photo making in order for the image to be intentional? Does a photograph need to be intentional? I think this is an interesting theoretical discussion for those interested in what makes “photography” rather than a snapshot or even and accident. And does it even matter?

This is such a thought provoking book on many levels if you take the time with it. I highly recommend it. It’s available through the publisher, Nobody Books.