Ornithurae has been three years in the making for Sydney-based photographer Leila Jeffreys. ‘It’s a bit like searching for a golden thread, photographing many different birds until I start to see a series emerge,’ she says.
Taking its name from an ancient Greek word which means ‘bird tails’, the show’s titles refers to the group of all modern birds and their evolutionary ancestor. For this project, Leila has tracked down birds all across Australasia, profiling two species groups: pigeons and cockatoos, as well as creating a more conceptual art piece entitled ‘Snowfall’.
Having spent the better part of the last five years seeking out, meeting and photographing various rare bird species, it’s no surprise Leila has become a bird whisperer of sorts. A few encounters with beautiful rainforest pigeons whilst birdwatching provided the impetus for her new pigeon series. ‘The first time I saw a bleeding heart dove it made me adamant that this is a series worth pursuing, as it has absolutely extraordinary markings,’ Leila explains.
The artist is quick to dispel any misconceptions about the humble pigeon, and encourage the public to view this species in a new light. She points us to an essay by biologist and author Tim Low, in which he states: ‘We ought not take pigeons for granted. To pigeonhole them as urban scroungers does them an injustice… Scientists testing their navigation have found them to be multi-skilled, able to return home by evaluating landscape smells, the position of the sun, planetary magnetism, the lines marked by highways, and probably infrasound.’
According to Tim, pigeons have been documented returning home after being transported somewhere new while anaesthetised and sealed inside a container (sounds a bit rough for the pigeon, but impressive nonetheless).
Cockatoos, meanwhile, are a recurrent theme in Leila’s work; the artist says she loves working with cockatoos because ‘they ooze personality and humour’!
The ‘Snowfall’ piece is a slight deviation from Leila’s usual style. For this work, Leila photographed a flock of white budgerigars in a birch tree. ‘The work is printed at almost two-metres tall, and from a distance looks like it’s snow falling, but up close you see all these little birds darting around, sleeping and chewing on branches,’ Leila describes. ‘This is quite different to anything I’ve done before.’
Another thing she hasn’t done before, is exhibit in New York City! This show will be Leila’s first outside of Australia, and it’s been made possible in part, by the support of Hollywood actress Brooke Shields (not kidding!). ‘Brooke Shields is a big art collector, and is doing me the great honour of hosting my exhibition for me,’ Leila mentions. Okaaaay.
Up next for Leila is a larger-than-life outdoor exhibition, ‘QBE MUSE @ Taronga Zoo’, in Sydney very soon – we’ll keep you posted!