If you’re looking for objects that define New York, few epitomize the city — and evoke more vexation — than pigeons and taxi cabs. Both subjects have been belabored, but two new books adroitly place them in a delightful perspective.
Pigeons may be “rats with wings” to some people (like the former parks commissioner, Thomas P. F. Hoving, who popularized the phrase), but in “The New York Pigeon: Behind the Feathers” (powerHouse Books), they are a muse to Andrew Garn, a fine art photographer, whose striking full-page color images make the birds seem respectable and becoming.
In her introduction, Emily Rueb, whose webcam chronicled the Manhattan windowsill home of red-tailed hawks for The New York Times, recalls pigeons’ roles as valiant couriers in wartime and as messengers for journalists.
“Today, human encounters with pigeons often more closely resemble Tippi Hedren cowering in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds,’ rather than St. Francis of Assisi standing calmly with an outstretched hand,” Ms. Rueb writes. “But it wasn’t always this way.”
Mr. Garn’s book (published in association with the Wild Bird Fund) includes portraits of rarely seen baby pigeons, comely pigeon pinups, pigeon people (rock dove devotees) and urban pigeon perches.
“Looking through the viewfinder, I was actually startled by the shimmering iridescence of the feathers, the fan-like sweep of the wings, and the deeply colored, luminous eyes,” Mr. Garn writes. “Photographing pigeons in mid-flight with high-speed strobe lights, I saw a grandeur I had never associated with these often-invisible gray creatures.
“From that moment on,” he added, “I would never see a pigeon the same way again.”
Benoit Cohen stops short of demanding, “You talkin’ to moi?” but like Robert De Niro in the 1976 film “Taxi Driver,” the French filmmaker gamely takes on the role of a New York cabby.
Mr. Cohen, who moved to Brooklyn from France in 2014 with his wife and two children, plays the part to steep himself in taxi driver temperament for a screenplay he’s working on, although it’s unclear if life is imitating art or vice versa.
Mr. Cohen has transformed his four-month anthropological field trip into a pithy day-by-day diary titled “Yellow Cab: A French Filmmaker’s American Dream” (Pointed Leaf Press) that chronicles his application, schooling and, finally, his adventures behind the wheel.
On his very first day, he was returning his yellow cab to Queens but had forgotten to switch on his “off duty” sign. Two women hail him while he’s stopped at a red light, and, heeding the newly learned rules of taxi driving, he agrees to drop them off at Penn Station even though he was going the other way. Just as he’s about to drive away from the station, a police officer raps on his window.
“I make it back to the garage in the nick of time,” he writes — with three summonses, for blocking a crosswalk, parking more than 12 inches from the curb and impeding traffic.
“I tell the dispatcher and the other drivers about my misfortune,” Mr. Cohen continued. “They laugh and exclaim in unison, ‘Welcome to New York!’”