They alight in our vicinity and then take off again, sometimes discreet, other times audible; sometimes we follow their flightpaths in our dreams. Birds accompany our lives: whether in cities or in the open fields, they populate the sky and the trees, making dimensions of space visible as they spread their wings. To a photographer, a bird is an ideal subject. It flits past things in its gracious flight. It is a sudden, vivid presence in the vast expanse. It sings nature which we tend to forget. This type of observation runs through the work of the four photographers showcased by Éditions Xavier Barral in their publishing series dedicated to birds. While all four photographers have followed the lives of birds, each one brings his or her own individual approach, informed by a keen gaze. The photographs are complemented by texts written by the ornithologist Guilhem Lesaffre. The result is a rich and varied collection which makes us eager to learn more about birds and celebrate our encounters.
Bernard Plossu: Stillness and flight
They seem to be dancing in the wind, as if carried along by the breeze, whirling at the edge of a cloud… The swallows photographed by Bernard Plossu create astonishing choreographies that bring lightness and poetry to wide-open skies. The photographer has managed to capture their flight in grainy, textured images in which the birds seem to be slicing the blank expanse with their widespread wings… Sometimes Plossu registers a sparrow perching on top of a chair in a city park. His camera is attentive to these residents of the open air as they trace their invisible routes. Guilhem Lesaffre’s text focuses precisely on the surprising paths of bird migrations as they traverse thousands of miles, always finding their way.
Pentti Sammallahti: Feathers in a cold climate
The Finnish photographer presents luxurious black-and-white photographs showing the incredible resilience of birds in the dead of winter, when the world is swaddled in a thick blanket of snow. “Winter conditions are sometimes extremely harsh for birds,” explains Guilhem Lesaffre. “Pentti Sammallahti’s photographs eloquently express that bitter cold.” In fact, as the ornithologist informs us, some birds perish while others, thanks to their plumage, manage to withstand the cold. In the photographer’s images, birds huddle up on a tree branch or on top of a windmill. There is a slight sense of melancholy that fills Sammallahti’s oeuvre, in which the bird appears to be the last survivor of nature tormented by a cruel world.
Yoshinori Mizutani: A chattering of parakeets and starlings
Clustered in colorful companies, the birds captured by Yoshinori Mizutani seem to form a perfect family perched on electric wires of large cities like Tokyo. This young Japanese photographer manages to portray curious assemblies of parakeets and starlings that flock together at night for protection. “Sparrows and long-tailed tits huddle together on their perch like on a spit,” observers Guilhem Lesaffre, noting the herd instinct among birds varies depending on the species, and often constitutes an advantage. Mizutani foregrounds in particular the splendor of the colorful plumage which contrasts with the sky, whether it is blue by day or dark by night.
Terri Weifenbach: The garden host
It’s in her garden in Washington, DC, that Terri Weifenbach photographed birds. Throughout the year, rain or shine, she observed blackbirds, common sparrows, and cardinals… The photographer captured these amazing birds in mid-flight, or yet portrayed them pecking the ground. Her eye seizes the birds’ sudden, whimsical movement. What the birds represent, and what touches us in these photographs, is a fleeting moment of freedom. The birds appear happy in this home garden, and their happiness is contagious, making us wish we too had wings and feathers…
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
A book series published by Éditions Xavier Barral