I shot this in my parents’ basement. My mom is a bit of a basement hoarder and I went down there one day to just dig through, maybe get rid of some things for her, maybe take some photos. This one box had all of these random items in it—the pink bow, but also a Christian brochure and old pictures that I had taken when I was really young. I was compelled to take this picture because it sort of resonated on a Jeff Koons by way of Paul Outerbridge level—color adoration, the elevation of what others might call kitsch. I loved that stuff; it is a part of who I am.
It wasn’t my original intention, but it was out of necessity that I had to rent the pigeons. I tried to do it in the city, with the pigeon racers on the rooftops, but it was just too unwieldy.
I needed a more controlled environment and then I realized, oh, in TV and movies the birds are just like models. It transformed into this “rent-a-muse” context that I ended up loving.
I had this unending love for the decorative, for pattern. I was and remain obsessed with Henri Matisse. But I also loved the flat, neutral way a 4 × 5 camera rendered the architectural lines. My photo Refrigerator  is a good example of these dueling impulses. The composition was aesthetic, but it was also personal, a nostalgia for the eye-boggling, baroque interiors that I grew up with in the South.
When I took this picture I was shooting portraits of UPS drivers, so I had my large format camera and film and I was heading back to Williamsburg. As I was walking to the L train, there at 6th Avenue and 14th, there was this scene—and if you remember, there was a newsstand there on the northwest corner of the street, and I told the guys working there, “I work for the New York Times. I need to get on your roof.” And they’re like, “Okay, you can do whatever you want.” And then the cops came and of course said, “Get down from there!” I was like, “It’s okay, I work for the New York Times.” [laughter] It worked for enough time for me to get eight frames off. Of course, I wasn’t working for the New York Times that day, but I had a few weeks prior . . .
At the time of this photo I was working on a show that was connecting the pigeons, water, and delivery systems. I was pleased with the works I included in the Greater New York show at MoMA PS1 in 2000; that’s when I showed a model portrait, the UPS logo, and I got into the conversation around this idea of delivery systems and photography’s complicity in those mechanisms. This photo of a river upstate that leads to the Hudson plugged in perfectly with this. I was trying to devise a method for making a photo show that didn’t have a thesis. I didn’t want to do German objective photography, and I didn’t want to be just intellectualizing. I wanted to actually author pictures and make beautiful pictures that surprised me; I desired to discover something. Looking back, I can see how I was trying to do it all. I think that’s why The Pink Bow was so important; it’s this metaphor for that thinking, a ribbon looping back on itself with a decorative flourish.
Artwork © Roe Ethridge; Roe Ethridge: Old Fruit, 976 Madison Avenue, New York, February 26–May 30, 2020