17 November 2014 . By João Bento
01. Very colourful craft store song birds resting on tree branches in various natural landscapes is what American artist Paula McCartney displays in the artist book ‘Bird Watching’ from 2010.
The work deals with the idea of a constructed landscape, partly natural, partly artificial. McCartney explains, “I love going on walks and hikes. When I do that I always hear birds… Birds exist for themselves not for my entertainment, you never get a good glimpse of them, they blend with the landscape or they stand too far away. So, I decided to put fake birds exactly where I wanted them. My photographs are an idealized scene.”
02. Since its invention, birds and other animals have been great subjects of interest within photography. Until the 1870’s, it was effectively impossible to record moving subjects as photographing required long exposures due to the low speed of light sensitive materials. During this period, the most frequently photographed animals were those that could stand still: cats, dogs, horses and caged birds. Wild animals could be photographed whilst asleep, in captivity, or dead. The compositions of deceased animals were often represented as trophies, or made into still life.
In the 1850’s, John Dillwyn Llewelyn, from Wales, attempted to simulate live environments by photographing stuffed birds and mammals in a natural habitat. The taxidermy suggested a degree of authenticity to the images created and according to historian Margaret Harker, “reactions to Llewelyn’s photographs were quite fascinating. When they were brought out of the archives after many years and exhibited in the 1960’s in the Royal Photographic Society’s House, they were accepted by most viewers as photographs of live animals.” Professor Matthew Brower argues that “Llewelyn’s images can’t be understood as wildlife photography.” Brower reminds us that “in Victorian landscape photography, animal and human figures were used for compositional accent and emotional overtone.”
03. Japanese artist Yohei Kichiraku bought an old ornithological guide at a flea market. Part of the illustrations in the book had been cut-out by someone, prompting Kichiraku to make more cuttings and place them in forests and tree branches, which he then photographed. The resulting body of work, from 2012, is called ‘Birds’.
Kichiraku’s images won’t make anyone believe that they are looking at real birds. The work has essentially an aesthetic quality of beauty and seduction.
This text was also published on Animalia Vegetalia Mineralia, a journal written in Portuguese and English dedicated to ecomedia and ecocritical studies: animaliavegetaliamineralia.org