Leila Jeffreys is a self-described ‘bird nerd’ – and has built a huge following for her incredible portraits of birds. Her latest body of work, High Society at Olsen Gallery, Woollahra sees Leila move from single portraits to shooting entire flocks of birds together.
While many of Leila’s more recent projects have involved larger bird species, her desire to capture a flock meant she needed to work with birds who were both tame and familiar to her. Ten years after initially putting budgies in front of the lens, the bird most associated with childhood pets (rather than photographic models) is back centre stage.
Leila explains ‘it occurred to me that I’ve spent my time focusing on the individuals, and shifting my focus to the flock had enabled me to really observe how the birds interacted.’ Watching her feathered friends interact in this way revealed family groups and couples that shined a light on how budgies work as a ‘society’. Her husband James suggested the title High Society as a playful way to reflect that they are ‘literally a high society given that their homes are in trees, but also flipping the dialogue and playing with the suggestion that they are more important than us mere humans.’ The humble budgie is elevated to new heights!
The artist highlights that capturing the birds collectively was logistically complex, and required extensive planning and the building of a temporary aviary in the studio. This 10-metre long and 4-metre high structure allowed Leila to capture the birds sitting in trees devoid of leaves, where the small birds mimic the blossoms or foliage of the plant. She explains that this composition ‘highlights the relationship of the birds and trees, depending on each other for survival.’
In addition to these arresting group shots, Leila also presents her iconic close up portraits of budgerigars. The brightly coloured birds have all been named by Leila’s friends Matilda (11) and Harriet (8), whose own pet budgies Pineapple and Ocean feature in the exhibition! The two girls provided the names for all of the featured birds in the show (‘celery’ being one of our favourites names!) which Leila describes as ‘names that could only have come from the beautiful, young, creative minds of children.’
If you are an established fan of Leila’s work, or keen to find out more, you can view a documentary about her work and process as a photographic artist available on ABC iView right now. It’s directed by award-winning documentary maker Poppy Stockell and produced by Cecilia Ritchie, and called Bird Nerd: The Art of Leila Jeffreys.
High Society by Leila Jeffreys
October 16th – November 10th
Screening of Bird Nerd and Q&A with Leila on Saturday, October 19th
63 Jersey Road
Woollahra, New South Wales