In 1936, an American ornithologist named James Bond (1900–1989) published the definitive taxonomy Birds of the West Indies. Ian Fleming, an active bird-watcher living in Jamaica, appropriated the name for his novel’s lead character. He found it “flat and colourless,” a fitting choice for a character intended to be “anonymous … a blunt instrument in the hands of the government.” This co-opting of a name was the first in a series of substitutions and replacements that would become central to the construction of the Bond narrative.
Taryn Simon’s Birds of the West Indies is a body of work divided in two parts. The firs one takes the format of the original Bond’s taxonomy to present an inventory of women, weapons, and vehicles—recurring elements in the James Bond films made between 1962 and 2012. This visual database of interchangeable variables used in the production of fantasy examines the economic and emotional value generated by their repetition. It also underlines how they function as essential accessories to the myth of the seductive, powerful, and invincible Western male.
In the second component of her two-part body of work, Simon casts herself as James Bond (1900–1989) the ornithologist and identifies, photographs, and classifies all the birds that appear within the twenty-four films of the James Bond franchise. The appearance of many of the birds was unplanned and virtually undetected, operating as background noise for whatever set they happened to fly into. Simon ventured through every scene to discover those moments of chance. The result is a taxonomy not unlike the original Birds of the West Indies.