I’ve worked in the Field Museum of Natural History here in Chicago over the last several years, shooting endangered and extinct specimens in the zoology collection. One day two years ago I was introduced to a volunteer from the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors by Mary Hennen, a collections assistant in the Birds Division. Mary met me at an entrance to take me up to shoot in the collection. At the same time a volunteer was unloading large boxes from the back of her car. She and Mary chatted and opened the boxes, crammed with dead birds in plastic freezer bags, labeled. These ‘scavenged birds’ become specimens in the collection and I became interested in describing the process: a migratory bird dies, regrettably, in Chicago’s Loop but then becomes scientific information, a source of data, living on in that way.
Now I’m in Chicago shooting a short documentary film on this story. The incredible curators at the museum had put me in touch with Annette Prince, head of CBCM. Annette must put 50,000 miles a year on her car – whenever I called her from London to arrange this trip she was driving to or from a bird mission. I flew in yesterday and by noon today I still had not reached Annette… so I had very little idea of what or who I would be shooting this week.
But she called from the road today at lunchtime and I enlisted as a volunteer: she needed someone to pick up an injured bird found by a professor on the Northwestern University campus. I drove to the campus and he placed a box on my front seat containing a small warbler. I then headed west, trying to remember and to find various roads from when I grew up here. Annette and I crisscrossed Chicagoland to meet each other, keeping in touch and negotiating bad traffic by phone, hoping to converge in the northwestern suburb of Palatine in a mall parking lot. That was the plan, anyway… In the end she found me parked at the Jiffy Lube in Mount Prospect and we went and had a Coke in McDonald’s (nowhere else to sit down) to plan the week ahead.