The wild colors and original characters of pigeon racing
When the time Whether the weather is sunny or the sky is clear on an evening from September to June, a strange and wonderful thing happens in the Spanish countryside. Flocks of brightly painted male pigeons take flight, each chasing a lone female. The birds are dragged by spectators in cars and on Vespas, creating random and colorful parades. Ricardo Cases documents this joyful and quirky pastime in his series Paloma to the area.
The event is part of a sport called Colombicultura which dates from the late 1700s and remains popular in provinces such as Valencia, Murcia and Alicante. With up to 90 pigeons chasing a hen, the race is not about speed, but attraction. After two hours, the winning pigeon is the one that has spent the most time closest to the hen. It is a test of gallantry for “the one who has the most perseverance and reproductive instinct”. Owners paint their pigeons in electric shades of pink and blue to differentiate them, but also to add to the pageantry.
“It’s like the young men at the disco in town going there in the best clothes to talk to that one woman,” Cases says.
Colombicultura is not a national pastime, but participants take it seriously. Federations govern the competitions and a national championship takes place in June. There is also real money involved. There are entry fees and sometimes cash prizes. Prize birds can be worth thousands of dollars, as can bets.
To determine which bird spends the most time with the female, an official referee keeps a log that lists the pigeons and their colors. As in other sports, the referee is respected but also despised in case of disagreement on a decision. “Of course there are disputes,” Casas says. “It’s like people are arguing about a foul in football.”
The colors owners choose often refer to national flags or their favorite football team. Pigeons also have grandiose names. There are birds named “Messi” after Lionel Messi, the Argentine soccer champion who plays for FC Barcelona, and birds with names like “the donkeyor “the donkey”, a reference to the character of the pigeon. Others have equestrian-sounding names like “No mas lagrimasor “no more tears”.
The female bird carries a radio transmitter so as not to get lost. Birds are trained to stay in a certain geographical area, but sometimes things go wrong. Once a female pigeon landed on a boat heading to the island of Mallorca and took several male pigeons with her. Cases says the owners called friends in the area and eventually got their birds back.
For Cases, the project and the corresponding book are about sport, but also about the uniqueness of the Spanish people. He enjoys working on the more obscure and ignored parts of Spanish culture and likes that there is a strong community element to Colombicultura that has not become a cliché about the country.
“Everyone talks about famous footballers or musicians, but I prefer to be with those people,” he says. “They may not be important to mainstream media, but they are important to me.”
works from Paloma in the air represented by the Dillon Gallery will be part of Paris Photo Los Angeles, May 1-3.