There they are, the birds, nestled in the heart of the Galerie le Château d’eau, in Toulouse. They have been immortalized by twelve big names in international photography: Albarran Cabrera, Byung-Hun Min, Graciela Iturbide, Leila Jeffreys, Rinko Kawauchi, Michael Kenna, Christophe Maout, Yoshinori Mizutani, Paolo Pellegrin, Bernard Plossu, Pentti Sammallahti or Terri Weifenbach. Some majestic in full flight, others with discreet silhouettes you need to look for, portrayed as stars in a studio. The diversity of plumage responds to that of the photographic writings. But all have one thing in common: being part of a book collection launched in 2018 by Xavier Barral. The editor had never created this type of collection before, but his fascination for the sky creatures and excellent knowledge of photography helped him notice how often these animals appeared in the works of photographers. Since he died in 2019, the Atelier EXB has perpetuated his work and the Birds collection now has a dozen titles. The eponymous exhibition was a joint project of the publishing house and the Toulousian institution.
The event offers each of the photographers presented a small personal exhibition. It is up to visitors to follow the course and peck on the series they prefer. “It was a challenge to install twelve photographers on picture rails of different sizes,” recalls Christian Caujolle, co-curator of the exhibition and artistic advisor of the Galerie le Château d’eau. Our rule was to create a space for each one marked by the artist’s name written in vertical.” A copy of the collection’s book dedicated to them sits alongside the artists’ prints. “There are two types of photographers in this exhibition: those who have never done a project on birds but animals have an important presence in their work, and those who have created similar series,” explains Christian Caujolle. For example, Rinko Kawauchi wanted to be in the collection and came up with a project, but she couldn’t do it due to the confinement. Instead, she focused on the swallows in her garage.” The resulting series is soft and sweet, in pastel colors that seem to hatch like the beaks of baby birds sticking out of a nest.
Christophe Maout, whose book is freshly out of the oven, also created his series during confinement. He captured the birds in flight with improvisational tools: a pair of binoculars and a camera. From afar, the color-filled rings – blue striped with white, red with black streaks, and shades of gray – outlined in black in a square frame look like distant planets floating in space. They are, in fact, the Parisian skies where the willowy shadows of our feathered friends take shape.
In Pentti Sammallahti’s photography, there is no color but the black and white bear a humanistic touch and cliches emanate from his work. Christian Caujolle calls them “images of poetry.” Contemplative poetry in which we imagine the Finnish master in solitude and silence in the kind of nature he is fascinated by, attentive to the movements of animals, the only characters presented in his images. And sometimes, there is magic, like in this odd face-to-face between a seated dog and a bird sitting in its shadow. Albarran Cabrera’s delicate small prints are also magical. That is, thanks to the gentle iridescence that the combination of gold leaves and super fine paper evokes. Again, the series is not explicitly dedicated to birds but rather travels through the oeuvres with their Asian hint. It is also a thematic exploration of the works of Bernard Plossu. He inaugurated the Birds collection with the help of Sammallahtti. A flock of photo frames is presented to visitors at the bottom of the stairs in the basement of a red brick building. Among the shots is the image of a little swallow behind glass, with its wings spread out, as if showing off its delicate bicolored feathers to the photographer.
Amateur birdwatchers will certainly appreciate Leila Jeffreys’ portraits, presented in the second building of the institution in Toulouse. Like the round-eyed owl or the charcoal crested cockatoo that stands out on a neutral background. To get such images, one imagines the birds brought by their owners to the Australian’s studio, but the process is a bit more complex. “Leila Jeffreys works with a mobile studio,” says Christian Caujolle. “She sets it up in bird havens like care and rescue centers or zoos with good conservation programs.” A process that forces respect and whose knowledge will, without a doubt, set the same expression of surprise on the faces of certain visitors as this little white and brown owl.
All these birds, migratory or not, will fly away to other horizons at the end of summer. They will leave the Pink City, fly to Brussels and settle in Hangar Art Center. They will be joined by new congeners, those photographed by Roger Ballen, especially for the Birds collection.
“Birds”, group exhibition, at the Galerie le Château d’eau, 1, place Laganne, Toulouse, until August 21.
Find the Birds collection on Atelier EXB’s website. Last volume published by Christophe Maout, English and French editions, with a text by Guilhem Lesaffre, birdwatcher, €35.