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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

Work / Photography

Photographer Fergus Thomas turns his lens on the pigeon-breeding community of South Wales

For Fergus Thomas, documentary photography provided a way to connect with his new home in Wales and its residents. “Initially it was a way to investigate my new surroundings. I’d moved to Newport to study and was living in a city that was very different to London,” says the photographer, who grew up in the capital. “Through taking photographs of people who lived in Newport I began to make more and more friends and then it began to snowball.”

During his four years of studying Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales, Fergus worked on a series called Bird of Dreams, which looks at Newport through the prism of breeding and racing pigeons. “I was given different assignments and would go out and take photographs of people in the city,” he explains. “I decided to develop some of these projects in my own time and carried on shooting after I graduated.”

The result is a series bursting with character and atmosphere. Fergus doesn’t simply show us the reality of breeding pigeons; the project is more of a social study, taking us into a series of intimate settings – the bedrooms, lounges and back gardens of his subjects. “Because I had made friends with these people, access wasn’t a formal thing,” he explains. “I really enjoyed spending time with them and hearing what they had to say, so I went back again and again.”

A couple of characters crop up time and again across the series, including a man called Gagsy, who became good friends with Fergus. “There was a lot of energy surrounding his house. There always seemed to be lots of people there and it looked like a really interesting place to be,” says Fergus. He and a friend went round and met Gagsy and then kept going back. “A lot of these photographs stemmed from spending time with him, so I consider our relationship a very important part of this project.”

But Fergus’s favourite shot from the project is of Chris, one of the pigeon breeders. “It’s one of the first photographs that I actually pre-planned in my head. I dreamt up this image and then I asked Chris to create it. I remember scanning the neg and my heart just jumped because it had worked perfectly which really surprised me. Conceptually I think it really embodies the meaning of the series as well.”

And what does the photographer feel the meaning of the series is? Fergus is keen to stress that he doesn’t want to “tell anyone what to think”, but he does have his own thoughts about the meaning of the project. “For me, it’s about winners and losers, dreams and reality, the beauty of flight and ultimately why humans have a desire to transcend and escape their surroundings.”

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams

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Fergus Thomas: Bird of Dreams