'Queenie' Galah Cockatoo
Leila Jefffreys (Papua New Guinea 1972 - )
Leila Jeffreys, an acclaimed photographic and video artist who lives in Sydney, Australia, is best known for captivating images of birds from Australia and around the world that explore and subvert the traditions of portraiture. Her avian subjects are photographed at human scale with a startling attention to colour, line, form and composition.
For Jeffreys, birds are both medium and message. Her practice asks critical questions about anthropomorphism while highlighting the connection between humans and other animals, the sense of interdependence between all living species and the profound refuge nature provides in a frantic world. The artist collaborates with conservationists, ornithologists and sanctuaries around the world to find her subjects before forging an intimate relationship with the birds that she photographs.
Through Jeffreys’ gaze, seemingly minor details such as the shape of a cockatoo’s beak, the rise and fall of a budgerigar’s plumage and the curious expression that flits across the face of a hawk are freighted with meaning. They’re proof of her subjects’ status as individuals.
For one of her famous series Ornithurae (bird tails in Greek), exhibited at PAN in 2023, she presents the rainforest doves and pigeons and asks us viewers to consider the fact that a bird that’s associated with the detritus of cities also possesses extraordinary facilities – from the ability to read the position of the sun to use their sense of smell to navigate complex landscapes. Ornithurae comprises
reveals the subtle details of its robes, while displaying a phenomenal spectrum of colour and nuances the human eye can only appreciate within the stillness of her photographs.
'Through a unique combination of technical skill, ingenuity, patience and empathy, Leila creates objects of art that are luxurious visual pleasures in themselves. By abstracting her subjects from their accustomed context, she demands focus on form, composition and colour. Stark and warm, objective and celebratory at the same time, her photographs not only enhance our personal surroundings by their own decorative presence, but expand our joyous understanding of the world we inhabit, yes customarily see so incompletely in the short time allowed to us.' (Dr Sarah Engledow, Historian (National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia)
In 2019, the artist was invited by the British historian and explorer Dr Huw Lewis-Jones to undertake her first expedition in the Arctic Circle, an experience that allowed the artist to observe and interact with endangered seabirds. So far, Jeffreys has travelled around the world to photograph species like Icelandic Puffins, New Zealand Penguins and Christmas Island Boobies and has been waiting years for the opportunity to work with an albatross. In 2021, Jeffreys was awarded the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship, which made it possible for her to travel with Australian scientists to Macquarie Island (sub-Antarctic) in 2023, with a further trip to Antartica to follow.
In 2025 a major exhibition is planned with her Seabirds series; a subject that will meditate on the relationship between these otherworldly – and fragile – creatures and the looming ecological crisis. This work, years in the making, will also be the basis of an illustrated hardcover book planned for release the same year. (text for greater part derived from Neha Kale)