Pigeonniers of Northern France
By Vicki Topaz
San Francisco, California: Vicki Topaz, 2006. Edition of 45.
10.75 x 12.25"; 82 pages. 48 images from Topaz’s series of the same title. Design and production by Vicki Topaz and Radek Skrivanek. Printed on Hahnemüle Photo Rag Duo with an Epson PRO 4800 inkjet printer. Handbound in Dutch Iris book cloth over boards by John DeMerritt.
These delicious and forlorn images, copies from original toned gelatin silver prints, serve as homage to and record of structures that for centuries housed the pigeons of the French nobility.
Vicki Topaz: "Some years ago, during a brief stay in Northern France, I saw my first pigeonnier standing isolated in a farmer's field off a tiny back road. Pigeonniers, also known as colombiers, were constructed to house the French nobility's pigeons. Dating back to the thirteenth century, thousands of pigeionniers used to exist throughout France. Few remain today. Some survivors are scattered throughout the landscapes of Normandy and Brittany.
"The survival of these pigeonniers across the centuries reverberates with me: their early randomness and lack of social significance; their rise as subsequent symbols of prosperity and domain as the rights of the nobility superceded those of their serfs; and their ensuing neglect I have discovered them in their final phase of existence, that of beautiful, useless, and sometimes forlorn structures. Many will soon disappear entirely, as have the worlds they represent: a composite of fantastical beliefs, medieval art and tapestries; of scientific discoveries; and of power inequity and political revolutions.
"Pigeonniers usually stand as silent, abandoned dwellings hidden away in the countryside. They feel haunted by their rich histories. At the same time, pigeonniers are very inviting, and some are still inhabited by a few pigeons. These structures retain, too, some of the sweetness of their former occupants, of the characteristics of these birds - their gentleness, loyalty, nesting, and social instincts, and ability to hone in on home.
"These buildings were framed long before I ever found them, by their period, their usage and their placement in nature. They are artifacts of their time, trapped by outliving their usefulness. As I have learned about their history and of their demise, it has compelled me to attempt to reveal fragments of their nature.
"Their decline has touched me as it embodies the loss we all may experience through life changes, decay, and the death of loved ones. The pigeonniers' survival represents the continuity of objects long after their builders have gone, reflecting our shared history. I find this continuity contains a measure of reassurance."
Silent Nests: Project History