Portfolio: Richard Bailey

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Tom Lehrer's spring isn't complete without poisoning them in the park; Dick Dastardly dratted and double-dratted himself to near-oblivion chasing one. For the rest of us, it's become all too easy to vilify them as "rats with wings".

For Charles Darwin, however, the humble pigeon was of paramount importance as he wrestled his theory of evolution into being. Spending a great deal of time with breeders, he noted the way they would cross-breed different varieties to produce specific results – an impressive neck ruffle or fantail, say.

From this understanding of artificial selection, he developed his theory that the environment, too, could "change" individuals in order that they could better survive local conditions – thus, natural selection.

In tribute to Darwin's work with the breed, 150 years on the British photographer Richard Bailey decided to undertake his own "experiments", creating a portable studio that he took around the UK's national shows to take formal portraits of the country's finest "fancy pigeons" – domesticated varieties of the sort that you'd rarely see strutting around on the street.

"I have always admired the animal paintings of George Stubbs," says Bailey, "especially his horses and the regal way in which he depicted them. I wanted to give the 'humble' pigeon this authority and, in some way, to carry on this great tradition of animal iconography.

"I started off thinking I would photograph each pigeon in a similar way, but after taking portraits of only a few, an anthropomorphisation started… some looked a bit naive; some had an air of self-importance; others looked into the camera with an unflinching, malevolent gaze.

"Although not a pigeon fancier myself, I have now become quite smitten with these wonderful and fascinating creatures."

For more, and to order prints: fancypigeon.co.uk

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