In 2013, while volunteering with Audubon Minnesota’s Project BirdSafe – which monitors bird deaths due to window strikes – Miranda Brandon collected dozens of dead birds from the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The painful experience inspired Brandon, then a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Minnesota, to create a series of portraits of birds at or just after the fatal moment of impact with a building.
The series, Impact: Birds in the Human-Built World, is composed of large scale, 44” by 65” photo composites that magnify – literally, figuratively, and poignantly – the perils faced by birds when navigating human-built spaces, especially glass windows that reflect the sky or their surroundings.
The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to a billion birds die in collisions with glass each year in the United States. Species commonly killed include the white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco, ruby-throated hummingbirds, wood thrush, and other species of conservation concern.
Brandon collected the deceased birds herself, with permission from the Bell Museum of Natural History, which holds all the dead birds collected by Project BirdSafe in the Twin Cities. (The Migratory Bird Treaty Act deems it illegal to collect dead birds without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.) Species she picked up across the city included American redstarts, white-breasted nuthatches, hermit thrushes, mourning doves (pictured above), indigo buntings, and Tennessee warblers, among others.
In her studio, Brandon worked to deconstruct and recreate the moments surrounding each fatal collision. She photographed each bird dozens, sometimes hundreds, of times and then digitally stitched together multiple frames to create massive, high-resolution composite images that capture each individual bird down to its finest, softest feather. (The birds were then handed over to the museum.)
Each bird in the series appears at 6 to 12 times its natural size and looks as if it has been photographed at the precise moment when it meets glass, or falls through the air post-impact, or lies in quiet, lifeless repose – head twisted at an awkward angle.
“At such a large scale the birds cannot be easily tidied up and discarded,” Brandon writes in her artist’s statement accompanying the series. “The photographs demand physical and contemplative space for their subjects, offering in return an intimate view of each bird and allowing minute details to be revealed.”
Brandon’s ultimate goal is to showcase each bird as a unique, glorious individual, and at same time, by the grotesque reality the images convey, push viewers to grapple with the morality of how we humans impact the spaces we occupy.
Indeed, it’s hard to look at these elegant, haunting portrayals of death and not be moved to take action to prevent this needless loss of life.
—Maureen Nandini Mitra
Miranda Brandon is a 2017 Tulsa Art Fellow. Her work has been exhibited at several venues across the Twin Cities, including the Bell Museum, and has been featured in various national publications. See more of her work at: www.mirandabrandon.com
We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.Donate
Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.