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Egg & Nest Hardcover – November 14, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


What kind of genius is Rosamond Purcell? Is she an artist? A scholar? A documentarian? A living cabinet of wonders? Her originality defies category, as does her newest triumph, Egg & Nest. Crack its shell. (Jonathan Safran Foer)

Rosamond Purcell is one of the great photographers. She has captured the history of objects by photographing them in romantic decline-- books scourged by worms, petrified food-stuffs, biological specimens gone wrong, the inexorable entropic winding down of everything. Egg & Nest is yet another example of her ability to make the ordinary extraordinary: Collecting people, collecting things, collecting people collecting things and creating something new and wonderful. In this collection of eggs and nests made of random bric-a-brac, cassette tape, and wire, we're invited to meditate on oology as ontology, ontology as oology, and the paradox of museums as a lifeless record of life. Rosamond Purcell has magnificently returned to her most fascinating obsession, the repurposing of life as the purpose of life. (Errol Morris)

[Purcell's] work is concerned with the magic in ordinary objects, but also the aesthetics of conservation and collection, as many of her images of objects from natural-history museums demonstrate. Purcell's latest project, a collection of photographs taken at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, in California, is a more serene and stately work, showcasing the variety of the avian world. (Andrea Walker New Yorker blog 2008-11-03)

[A] fascinating book...While this volume is not an art book per se, it is a lively history of egg collecting, or oology...The photographs, both those taken under laboratory conditions and those taken in the wild, are extraordinary, showing the variety of egg sizes, shapes, patterns, and textures: Mottled blue-gray Emu eggs look like fine-grained granite, while the vigorous dark brown markings of the glossy, tawny-colored eggs of the Northern Jacana of Mexico suggest Easter eggs decorated by Jackson Pollock. Equally compelling are Purcell's photographs of birds' nests, beautifully lit and formed of all sorts of materials: A raven's nest of twigs is lined with cotton batting for comfort. A Guatemalan nest of the Banded Wren looks like a crown of thorns--those thorns offering defense from predators. The miniscule vegetable-down nest of an Anna's Hummingbird collected in Santa Monica, California, in 1903 is ingeniously woven around the glass insulator of a telegraph line. All in all, there is considerable beauty and wonderment in this book. (The Magazine Antiques 2008-10-01)

Photographer Rosamond Purcell has made a career out of creating intriguing images of decaying objects... Her new book, Egg and Nest, focuses on one of the world's premier collections of bird eggs and nests, located at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, near Los Angeles. Nests are held together with whatever materials the birds could find: spider webs, fishing line, mud, and condensed saliva. Eggs, too, are varied: green, blue, speckled, covered by a swirl of markings. (Jan Gardner Boston Globe 2008-09-07)

Purcell uses her camera to transform the everyday ordinary into something extraordinary. She captures the diverse beauty, quirkiness and allure of eggs and the remarkable resourcefulness of birds, focusing on the intricacy of nests and the aesthetic perfection of bird eggs. The rich colors, lighting and textures make her photographs of eggs, nests and birds look three dimensional, as though the eggs could easily fall out of one of the photographs, as if falling from a nest. (Kurt Shaw Pittsburgh Tribune Review 2008-10-02)

If you are wondering why anyone would spend a life in a pursuit as eccentric as collecting eggs and nests, Ms. Purcell's work will tell you. She selected a range of specimens, eggs brightly colored and plain, and nests made conventionally of twigs or of materials as bizarre as nails. Then she photographed them in natural light. Her luminous results explain without words why people have been collecting eggs and nests for centuries. (Cornelia Dean New York Times 2008-10-07)

Beautiful...Egg & Nest reminds the reader of the civilized, tactile, sensual and emotive pleasures of holding a book in hand as opposed to reading from a glowing light box. Printed in Italy, it combines fabulous image reproduction--each page a magic revelation--with informative and insightful text, Purcell being as adept with words as with a lens. (Mary Thomas Pittsburgh-Post Gazette 2008-11-19)

Spend some time with Rosamond Purcell's enthralling photographs in Egg & Nest, and you might be tempted to become an oologist. Oology is not the science of oohs and ahs but the practice, frowned on in the civilized world, of collecting rare eggs and nests. Most of the photographs were taken at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo, Calif., which combines the collections of many Victorian bird enthusiasts. There's a woodpecker's nest in the shape of a wooden shoe, a grackle's nest woven of lace and audiotape, and a nest from Wasilla, Alaska, lined with feathers and fur. Unbearably poignant is a photograph of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who died in the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914. You'll even find a definitive answer to the age-old conundrum about the chicken or the egg. Hint: Ex ovo omnia. (Christopher Benfey Slate 2008-12-16)

Purcell doesn't just delve into the history of egg obsession. She captures the variety and beauty of eggs and nests in beautiful photographs. Unless you're an ornithologist, you probably don't have a wide frame of reference for the sheer diversity of eggs. From the ultra glossy, Easter eggs of the Tinamou to the brown, blue and purple mottled eggs of the Chuck-Will's-Widow to the pyriform eggs of the Common Murres, pear-shaped to help prevent the eggs from rolling down the cliffs on which their nest perch, the assortment from page to page is stunning. (Curious Expeditions 2009-02-06)

Anyone who loves birds, nature, or simply exquisite colors and shapes will find this compendium a revelation. Rosamond Purcell's sumptuous photographs are accompanied by a fascinating history of man's obsession with ornithology. (Martha Stewart Living 2009-04-01)

Transcendent in their beauty, mysterious, softly luminous, fragile yet potent, birds' eggs are highlighted in numerous photos in this thoughtfully assembled volume...This reviewer is grateful for this book and for the generations of work that have gone into building collections like this one. (S. Hammer Choice 2009-02-01)

This magnificently illustrated volume provides readers with a fascinating glimpse into the hidden world of wild bird eggs and nests...The book is alternately enlightening and uplifting, and sobering and alarming, as one reviews the preserved remains of what was and what quite literally might have been. One thing is clear upon turning the final page of Egg & Nest: Only eternal vigilance will protect what little of nature's splendor remains in this world. (John A. Murray Bloomsbury 2008-11-01)

The book consists of 10 groups of photographs, rendered in natural light in simple, striking settings...In [one] image, red-winged blackbird eggs rest on squares of cotton wool, their many shades of sky blue recalling the diversity possible within one species. Egg and Nest subtly suggests that such variety deserves our care: for the artifacts and, crucially, for their present-day relatives. (Anna Lena Phillips American Scientist 2009-09-01)

About the Author

Rosamond Purcell is a world-renowned photographer and the author of a number of books, including Owl’s Head and Bookworm.

Linnea S. Hall is the Executive Director of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo, California.

René Corado is Collections Manager of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo, California.

Bernd Heinrich is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont. He has written several memoirs of his life in science and nature, including One Man’s Owl, and Ravens in Winter. Bumblebee Economics was twice a nominee for the American Book Award in Science, and A Year in the Maine Woods won the 1995 Rutstrum Authors’ Award for Literary Excellence.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 222 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; y First printing edition (October 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674031725
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674031722
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 1.1 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #945,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By C. P. Brest Kempen on September 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It's a famous conundrum, but a bogus one; the mutation that created the genus Gallus induced a chicken to hatch from an egg laid by a bird not quite of that taxon. Of course, it was the egg that came first.
An understanding of eggs is prerequisite to a true comprehension of the birds they deliver. Much of our modern knowledge of bird eggs, and the diverse nests that harbor them, is based on the work of egg-collectors (oologists) from a century or more ago. At the height of its popularity, commercial and otherwise irresponsible egg collecting tarnished oology's image, but its scientific value persists and cannot be underestimated. A staggering database survives in the form of well-tended egg collections, including those of the British Museum, the Smithsonian and others. Less well-known is the biggest collection of them all, that of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, founded in 1956 by Ed Harrison, with over 190,000 sets and a million individual eggs, as well as 18,000 nests and 54,000 study skins.
Harvard University Press has just produced a beautiful new book celebrating this collection. Egg & Nest is first and foremost a picture book, featuring spectacular photographs by the gifted Rosamond Purcell, whose collaborations with Stephen Jay Gould and her own books, including Dice, Bookworm and Owls Head, are well-known. Over 175 color photographs of the WFVZ collection are featured, each one an aesthetic and zoological pleasure. Many of the images simply glorify the obvious beauty of their subjects: the deep glossy greens of tinamou eggs, the marbled copper patina of Emu eggs, the dainty hieroglyphics gracing Icterid eggs, and the 2-dimensional calcium carbonate filligree shrouding the eggs of the Guira Cuckoo.
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The photos of the egg collections were especially colorful. Details of nest construction, especially the orioles, were outstanding. Love the book and have shared it with all that enter my home who are as impressed with nature's talents as I am. Chuck-will-widow's eggs could inspire an artist!
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egg&nest is a feast for the eyes,and is also a great read.every winter i add one book (ornithology) to my collection.this one is a must. the beautiful photography will inspire my artwork.
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