Photography exhibition unites ornithologist James Bond with James Bond 007

Rochester, N.Y., February 2, 2016 - The George Eastman Museum will present a fascinating two-part body of work from photographer Taryn Simon in Birds of the West Indies, on view in the museum's main galleries from February 13 through May 15.

In 1936, an American ornithologist named James Bond (1900-1989) published the definitive taxonomy Birds of the West Indies. Writer Ian Fleming, an active bird-watcher living in Jamaica, adopted the name for the lead character in what would become his popular series of spy novels. This appropriation was the first in a series of substitutions and replacements that would become central to the construction of the James Bond narrative. Merging Bond the ornithologist with 007, Simon uses the title and format of the ornithologist's taxonomy for her work. Her series Birds of the West Indies presents a photographic inventory of women, weapons, and vehicles, recurring elements in the James Bond films between 1962 and 2012. This visual database of interchangeable variables used in the production of fantasy examines the economic and emotional value generated by their repetition.

In the second part of the work, Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies, Simon casts herself as the ornithologist, and identifies, photographically isolates, and classifies all of the birds that appear within the 24 films of the James Bond franchise. The appearance of many of the birds was unplanned and virtually undetected, operating as background noise for whatever set they happened to fly into. Simon parsed every scene to discover those moments of chance. The result is a taxonomy not unlike Bond's original Birds of the West Indies.

In addition to more than 190 photographs, the exhibition includes Simon's film Honey Ryder (Nikki van der Zyl), 1962, which documents the most prolific agent of substitution in the Bond franchise. From 1962 to 1979, Nikki van der Zyl, an unseen and uncredited performer, provided voice dubs for more than a dozen major and minor characters throughout nine Bond films. Invisible until now, van der Zyl further underscores the interplay of substitution and repetition in the preservation of myth and the construction of fantasy.

"We are so fortunate to have this work by Taryn Simon on view at the George Eastman Museum," said Lisa Hostetler, curator in charge, Department of Photography, George Eastman Museum. "Birds of the West Indies is a trenchant visual exploration of the circulation and repetition of Bond elements that functions as a theme-and-variations about pleasure, desire, and fantasy in contemporary culture, while Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies draws attention to an incidental through line in the films-the presence of birds-that circles back to the etymology of the franchise's most iconic figure. Together, the two parts of the series activate a chain reaction of associations that is both sharply intelligent and fun."

To accompany the exhibition, there is a fully illustrated publication, Taryn Simon: Birds of the West Indies (Hatje Cantz, 2013), which includes an essay by Daniel Baumann. The book is available for purchase at the Eastman Museum store.

Related Programming

Members' Preview
Thursday, February 11, 6-8 p.m.

Opening remarks by Lisa Hostetler, curator in charge, Department of Photography, at 6 p.m. in the Dryden Theatre. Reception to follow, including a cash bar. Refreshments will be available for purchase from the museum's cafe. Admission is free for members, and $15 for nonmembers.

Artist's Talk
Wednesday, April 27, 6 p.m.

Taryn Simon will discuss her work on view at the Eastman Museum in this talk in the Dryden Theatre. Admission is free for members, $10 for nonmembers, and $5 for students with a valid ID. The exhibitions will remain open until 8 p.m.

Dryden Theatre Film Series: James Bond & Other Spies
March 2-May 28

To complement the exhibition Birds of the West Indies, the Dryden Theatre has curated a series of eighteen spy films-thirteen from the Bond franchise along with five other genre classics of the twentieth century. Among the several incarnations of Ian Fleming's international superspy, the series features the two most popular: Sean Connery and Roger Moore. The series begins on March 3 with Mata Hari (George Fitzmaurice, US 1931) and concludes on May 28 with A View to Kill (John Glen, US 1985). For a full list of film titles and dates, visit eastman.org/dryden.
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About Taryn Simon
Simon was born in New York in 1975. She is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow. Public collections include Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. She was awarded the Rencontres d'Arles Discovery Award in 2010.

About the George Eastman Museum
Founded in 1947, the George Eastman Museum is the world's oldest photography museum and one of the largest film archives in the United States, located on the historic Rochester estate of entrepreneur and philanthropist George Eastman, the pioneer of popular photography. Its holdings comprise more than 450,000 photographs, 28,000 motion picture films, the world's preeminent collection of photographic and cinematographic technology, one of the leading libraries of books related to photography and cinema, and extensive holdings of documents and other objects related to George Eastman. As a research and teaching institution, the Eastman Museum has an active publishing program and, through its two joint master's degree programs with the University of Rochester, makes critical contributions to the fields of film preservation and of photographic preservation and collection management. For more information, visit eastman.org.

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ATTN. MEDIA: High-res promotional images for Birds of the West Indies can be downloaded here: eastmanmuseum.box.com/tarynsimonBoTWI.

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