Bayou DeViewPostcard by Noah Doely
Text written by the artist from his project Into the Bayou
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, one of the largest woodpeckers to ever live, is classified by the American Birding Association as “definitely or probably extinct.” In the early 20th century, the bird’s population was already dwindling and encounters were becoming increasingly rare. It is difficult to say definitively when the last sighting occurred, though Don Eckelberry’s observations from Louisiana in 1944 are generally considered the final account.
In 2004, a man kayaking in the Bayou DeView, part of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in the Big Woods region of Arkansas, claimed to see an Ivory-bill and his report was quickly investigated by a team led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The investigators reported approximately 15 additional sightings during their search, seven of which were deemed substantial enough to use as supporting evidence for a paper later published in Science. The only photographic evidence of the sightings came from a video shot from a moving canoe in the Bayou DeView. The bird in the video was distant, blurry, and hard to discern, but it was convincing to many, including trained ornithologists. Other experts disputed the claim, arguing that the video had merely captured the visually-similar pileated woodpecker. Nonetheless, the encounters and subsequent announcement of the Ivory-bill’s rediscovery produced an international media event.
Despite extensive searching, there is still no conclusive evidence — unambiguous photographs, videos, or biological samples — that would confirm the bird’s continued existence. There are believers, skeptics, and a spectrum in between. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker has since become a metaphor for the undiscoverable, and the Big Woods of Arkansas the Area 51 for ornithologists.
I traveled to the Big Woods of Arkansas for the first time in the spring of 2014, 10 years after these events occurred. While there, I rented a boat to explore the depths of the Bayou DeView and recorded video in the same area that the 2004 footage was made. I wanted to experience and document this primordial swamp, a place that has an aura of myth, history, and uncertainty. I had the paradoxical experience of looking for the Ivory-bill despite my disbelief in its existence. I’m interested in the way a visual experience can differ dramatically based on the system of belief that someone brings to it. What constitutes a verifiable eyewitness account? Especially when there are so many trap doors built into the way we gain knowledge through our senses.
3.5 x 5.5 inches
Matte coated card stock
Edition of 25
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