Silent Nests by Vicki Topaz

Out of Inventory

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 pigeonniers 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lack of social significance; their rise as subsequent symbols of prosperity and domain as the rights of the nobility superceded those of their serfs; and their ensuing neglect.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.

Artist Bio

Vicki Topaz’s photographic imagery peels back the layers of history rooted in geography, architecture and personal perception. Within each frame are stories investigating the blurred boundaries in between the distinctions, revealing what remains, what’s worth noticing. Recently produced as a limited edition hand-bound artist’s book entitled Silent Nests, this project explores the remaining medieval pigeonniers in northwestern France. The mystery and poignancy of these abandoned structures, which are on the point of extinction, as well as their historical and cultural significance, drew Topaz to this region for several years.  Her book  was nominated for an Aperture West book prize, and was recently added to the collections of Paul Sack; Joan Morgenstern; the King Library at University of Kentucky; Trinity College; the Skillman Library at Lafayette College; Rochester Institute of Technology; Arizona Public Library (rare books collection); the Environmental Design Library at the University of California Berkeley; The Boston Athenæum, Boston, MA; The Getty Institute, Los Angeles, CA; Yale University, New Haven, CT; and, the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. Images from the Silent Nests series are included in the collections of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA; the Joy of Giving Foundation, New York, NY; and Fidelity Investments, Boston MA. These images have also been presented at Review Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM, and exhibited at the Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, CA, Peer Gallery, New York, NY and Galerie Ardi photographies, 2008, Caen, France. Topaz’s images have been reproduced in the catalogue for The Photo Review-19th Annual Photography Competition, and in Shots Magazine, and her work has been featured online through Lenswork and Foto Povera 2 (Paris). A co-founder and board member of the international presenting organization, PhotoAlliance, Topaz currently resides in San Francisco, CA, where she also is a member and auction donor to San Francisco Camerawork, San Francisco, CA.