“What kind of bird are you?” Such is this enigmatic question that kicks off the love story between the two young protagonists of Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom. A question as symbolic as it is poetic, it is also one that comes to mind and then lingers there throughout the reading of Francesca Todde’s book, A Sensitive Education. This small color book marks the culmination of a three-year photographic endeavor punctuated by multiple encounters between Francesca, Tristan, and his birds. Tristan tames and “educates” his birds for participation in various human activities such as theater, documentary films, and therapy for inmates. His work is accomplished via the communication he weaves between these two worlds, in the relationship of otherness he establishes between man and animal.
A sensitive fascination
Italian photographer and publisher Francesca Todde speaks of her fascination with birds as “a first love in the field of animal behavior since reading about jackdaws in the work of Konrad Lorenz” (a famous biologist and zoologist). When she met Tristan while in Avignon, she saw an opportunity to go further into a photographic project she had already begun on the relationship between animals and humans. The result of the book goes far beyond mere documentary: it’s the story of a sensitive experience that portrays a natural, almost secret universe, where each gesture unfolds in dilated time. Upon discovering this world, Francesca Todde tells us that she wanted to “relate something invisible to the eye, (…) the traces of internal manifestations (…). “
This reflected interiority can be seen in many images, and intensifies with the pacing of the book. Vastly different from documentary photography about animals, it is the way her photos reveal the patiently constructed relationship between man and bird–whether the educator or the photographer–that makes Francesca Todde’s images so striking. The photographer manages to represent all the subtlety of a silent relationship, of a wordless dialogue nestled in an extremely small visual space.
It was by allowing herself unlimited photographic time that Francesca Todde was able to “observe and photograph an extraordinary relationship, without having to stage it.” Throughout the pages, whose alternation is punctuated by flat tints of color, snippets of a patient, modest language are reconstructed between Tristan and his life companions, in turn as portraits, captured in flight, or signified by a succession of clues that characterize them. Access to a preserved, benevolent world is then offered to us, and, much like a treasure hunt, we seek in it the key to such osmosis and balance.
The quest is made all the more precious by the discovery of small notebooks of shorter and colored pages, as if burnished by the rhythm of nature. Initially, the book takes on the appearance of a field journal. But the more the suspension in time is at work, the more modesty of feelings caresses the eye like the feathers of a down pillow and makes one think of a personal diary written in close proximity to the birds, in the cozy warmth of their nest.
By Anne Laurens
A Sensitive Education, Francesca Todde
Départ Pour l’Image, January 2020
14,8 x 21 cm, 35€