One of the most iconic images of Hurricane Andrew is a photograph of flamingos, huddling on their toothpick legs in a tiled bathroom. Ron Magill, now communications director for Zoo Miami, snapped that picture after he and other staff (of then Miami Metrozoo) rounded up the flamingos and put them in the bathroom for safety.
I remember thinking, gosh, you know, this hurricane better come after all this work because I’m working my butt off and it better not be for nothing.
In 1992, Magill was an aspiring photographer. He had taken up photography because his wildlife research was getting published and he needed photos. On his days off, Magill would shadow Miami Herald photographers.
I learned from the guys at the Herald that in journalism, you want to capture a moment. You want to have something that will instill some kind of emotion and for that reason, I always had a point and shoot camera in my pocket. Always.”
After the hurricane, local news agencies were asking about the flamingos. They heard about the birds being stashed in the bathroom and asked if anyone had a picture. Magill sent it out.
That image went the 1992 equivalent of viral. Publications all over the world picked up Magill’s photo.
The zoo had also put storks in a different bathroom. Magill had taken a picture of them, too. But it was the flamingos that became such a defining image for the natural disaster that turned everything on its head…
People are used to seeing flamingos in a beautiful, tropical Caribbean setting. They’re the symbol of relaxation. They’re a symbol of Florida sunshine. They’re a symbol of the reasons people come down to South Florida. And the reality is, to see them locked up in a windowless bathroom with mirrors and bathroom stalls and sinks in front of them, it just seems to be very out of place.
Today, Magill is an award winning photographer. His pictures have appeared in publications and galleries around the world including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
And yet, this one point and shoot image that I’ve taken with flamingos in the bathroom, that is technically a horrific image, has gotten me more recognition and more money than any image I’ve ever taken.