A multi-million pound business, 92 countries visited and pigeon photography: we meet Hammersmith artist David Hicks
The pigeons pecking the pavement outside Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre seemed unphased by David Hicks’ presence, whose latest project is all about them.
Meeting the 57-year-old photographer, I anticipated a puffer-jacket wearing man, breadcrumb covered, with a plume of pigeons on his shoulders sitting on a park bench.
But when I meet him David is, much like his latest work, ‘Those Pesky Pigeons’, not what I expected.
Born in Bournemouth, David was a chef in Manchester for many years before another passion seized him. He made his name with his cards and gifts business Really Good, which started with a £200 investment.
The business is now worth £4 million and sold across 30 countries, and David spends his days ducking out of his house boat in Hammersmith carrying a camera.
“I’ve had crowds of people gathering around me as I photograph something I find interesting and they’re going, ‘What in the hell is he doing?’ and I look up and go, ‘I think it’s interesting to me’,” he said.
“Maybe they’ll go back and realise a part of a world they hadn’t seen before. It’s odd the amount of power a camera can have.”
David is a tall guy. Skinny as a stick. Pale-eyed with a salt and pepper beard. He’s often crouched on the floor taking photos of pigeons and New York City bin bags.
“When it’s common, you stop seeing it. The dreary and overlooked,” he said.
“It’s like looking through a window. You don’t notice the window,” David’s long arm stretches out towards the window, rings catching the sun, “you see everything through it but don’t notice the window itself.
“I see the window and notice it, notice where it hasn’t been cleaned, but that’s what makes it interesting. Most people will see through it and see through what’s right in front of them.
“As an artist, you have to see what other people aren’t seeing.”
Pigeons are what we aren’t seeing, to David.
NOW YOU SEE ME: David notices the everyday things that many people miss.
“I saw I had two or three photographs with pigeons and liked them, and I started seeing more of these curious creatures doing interesting things and it took me 13 years across 17 countries to realise this.
“I remember hanging out a McDonald’s in Athens and I saw a pigeon hanging next to the golden arches. They know how to get fast food fast! I thought it was such an interesting photograph,” he said.
He carried on: “I knew nothing about pigeons but wanted to do a project to find out more.”
Most Londoners consider them pests, but David speaks of them with the conversational manner of an encyclopaedia.
There are 350 varieties of pigeons. They can recognise their own refection (one of the few species to do so). They recognise the alphabet too.
There are pigeons boarding trains, flying away from children, and waking past lizards. There are pigeons in London, New York, Shanghai, and Puerto Rico.
Backpacking across Europe at 17 was David’s first experience of a world of cheap flights and expensive airport coffee. For three weeks, David did the usual “sleeping in stations steps, and parks. Wherever they tell you where not to sleep.”
Israel is booked for a week in March; his 92nd country he’s visited. “I have to get to 100 out of principle,” he said. David has been to so many countries he uses Excel spreadsheets to remember where he’s been and which photographs are taken where.
Alaska (‘gotta go’), Mongolia (‘because it’s there’), North Korea (‘want to go, but they really don’t like you taking photographs, so what’s the point?’) are all on the list.
Racking air miles isn’t his motivation, though, “I remember sitting in a field in Nepal with a guy who lived in a hut in the middle of the field and made me tea,” he said.
“It was one of those humbling experiences where he spoke Pidgin English and I spoke only two words of Nepalese but we found a way to communicate.
“We sat down cross-legged and spoke. Tea was all he had. You re-appraise everything. You can’t help but think we’ve lost the simple niceties of giving yourself and your time to people.”
David has given his time to pigeons, to the people he’s met on his travels, his girlfriend, and me.
“That’s all I can do with people I meet. It could be five minutes, it could be a smile as you walk past. It makes a difference.”