Those of you who follow me on Instagram are probably well aware by now that I have started a Kickstarter campaign for the initial print run of my self-published book, “The Birds.” The book contains a series of photos documenting the sudden ubiquity of BIRD’s, a brand of motorized, dockless scooters. In late 2017 and early 2018, BIRDs began appearing on the streets, sidewalks, and virtually every other unoccupied public space in some neighborhoods of Los Angeles. They were particularly abundant in Venice Beach and Santa Monica, where the company was founded.
The series documents unoccupied scooters — as they were found — in the early months of 2018 as they first gained popularity. It also includes intermittent quotes of dialogue from the 1963 apocalyptic Alfred Hitchcock classic, “The Birds.” We’ll come back to that later.
I started this project in Feb. of this year. As I was skateboarding down the bike path along Venice Beach one evening around dusk I noticed a BIRD sitting alone along the path in front of a landscape of beach, ocean and the distant Santa Monica Mountains. Sitting by itself the scooter appeared to anthropomorphize into an amusing, odd looking creature. Something about it’s long neck, big handlebar ears and it’s upright posture seemed to give it personality. I immediately thought picturing them this way would make a good photo series and the next day set out on foot looking for BIRD’s at rest. As the series progressed and the scooters continued to grow in popularity, the idea came to me that the BIRD’s were taking over the town, which immediately made me think of Hitchcock’s classic film of the same name and essentially the same plot. I looked up quotes from the film on IMDB and after reading one or two I realized they would not only be funny when put with my images, but could also add extra layers of meaning and could be used to form a loose narrative around the photos. From that point on I began shooting with that story concept as the driving force. I admit it’s an unconventional approach to what’s essentially a photojournalism project. But it’s also a photo series about scooters! How could I not have fun with it?
If you haven’t seen them in the news yet, dockless scooters are the latest trend in transportation. BIRD and other brands, such as Lime, Spin and GOAT, started appearing around the same time in cities such as San Francisco, D.C. and Austin and have since expanded to numerous other cities. The main feature that sets them apart from other ride sharing devices begins with the fact that they are GPS enabled and can be located and activated by using an app on a user’s phone. The user can then ride to their destination, cruising along at speeds up to 15mph using the scooter’s electric motor, and when finished, simply hop off, log out and leave the scooter where it is. It’s a great idea, but it has not come without controversy. In fact, new rules potentially capping the quantity of scooters in one area are being debated by the Santa Monica City Council as I type this. While the concept’s merits, such as convenience and environmental friendliness, have been validated by their obvious popularity, detractors have complaints and/or concerns about a number of issues. The two most common revolve around safety and optics. The scooters are literally everywhere. Not just along the edge of sidewalks and paths where the companies suggest riders place them, but also in the middle of sidewalks, down every alley, in parking lots and almost any other public space you can think of. They are often knocked over as well and can frequently be found blocking access to doorways, driveways and various other right of ways. This presents not only numerous opportunities for pedestrians to trip, but is also considered unsightly by many who would rather not see them lying on the ground and randomly strewn about the community. The public’s frustrations (and amusement) can be seen in many of my photos, as well as countless ones posted on social media, that depict the BIRD’s tossed in dumpsters, hanging from ropes as if lynched and having been either vandalized or physically destroyed. It’s a complicated issue to be sure. I try not to have a strong opinion either way, but think that both sides have merit.
In shooting them and creating this book I wasn’t so much trying to make a point, but to document a new trend and to have fun with the way I present it. I didn’t necessarily aim to show the scooters only blocking sidewalks or in ridiculous situations, but aimed for strong compositions, varying numbers of them grouped together and, of course, anything that made me laugh. I also found along the way that through the BIRD’s the images are also documenting my neighborhood. The area’s colorful textures, amazing beaches and unique architecture are some of the numerous features on display.
If you made it this far thanks for reading! If you enjoy this project please consider supporting the Kickstarter and/or sharing the project on your social media. I’ve created a special project website (thebirdsthebook.com) and Instagram handle (@thebirdsthebook). Thanks!!