Artist Profile: Leila Jeffreys

LEILA JEFFREYS HAS DEDICATED HER PRACTICE TO CAPTURING OUR FEATHERED FRIENDS ON FILM. SHE TALKS TO STEPHANIE VIGILANTE ABOUT THE POWER OF THE PORTRAIT.

Photographic artist Leila Jeffreys wants to get people to reconnect with nature. “I want them to feel a sense of its value and to know that it sustains us,” she says. “It’s a reminder that we are not the only species on this planet and that these other societies have just as much of a right to exist and thrive as humans. It’s our responsibility to share, not to dominate.”

Leila works specially with birds to give them a voice and presence in the human world. Through still photography and video photography, the artist has been capturing stunning, vibrant portraiture since 2008.

Given the nature of her work, no two days are the same. Leila doesn’t work from one studio – she has a roving space that adapts to her subject matter. Her equipment can flat pack and fit on aeroplanes, it is light yet has all the elements of a photography studio: good natural light, a backroll of paper, a perch and the ability to set up lights. “Also, always remember the catering,” Leila adds.

The artist spends a lot of time getting to know her subject matter before she starts snapping. “I observe and get a sense of its little being so I can get a feel for its character. Once I get a good sense of the bird I’ll set up,” she explains.

A lot of the work depends on the communication that is taking place between Leila and the bird. “If it’s a shy bird, you whisper and gain their trust. If it’s a bird like a cockatoo that is social and loud, then that energy is reflected in the shoot process,” Leila says. “The birds dictate what the atmosphere is like.”

Most recently, Leila has been working towards completing the works for her forthcoming exhibition High Society at Olsen Gallery, Sydney. It’s an evolution of her practice and while it includes portraiture, she is focusing not just on the individual but the flock. “I chose to work with budgerigars, which was the bird that I first photographed and exhibited almost 10 years ago,” she says.

Working with hundreds of birds, she created a purpose-built aviary with trees without leaves and photographed the birds in the trees to create the impression of foliage. “It began when I noticed how a flock of native Australian budgerigars looks like leaves on a tree. Looking closer I saw individuals, couples, and families – a secret High Society,” she explains. The exhibition also includes an incredible piece of video art she has made using the world’s most advanced slow-motion camera – the Phantom Flex4k.

Find Jeffreys’ work at Olsen Gallery in Sydney, Olsen Gruin in New York, and Purdy Hicks Gallery in London. High Society is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Sydney in five years and runs from 16 October until 10 November 2019. It then travels to New York where it is on show between 13 November and 6 January 6 2021.

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