Words by Harry Roberts
Leila Jeffreys has always seen eye to eye with wildlife. “I thought of them as people,” says the photographer, recalling a childhood spent in the company of chameleons, cobras, bats and Bengal tigers. Today that visceral bond permeates the photographer’s work, her lens bringing into focus the striking and diverse character of Australia’s native birdlife.
Having settled in Perth, Leila’s passion for photography culminated in degrees at Curtin and Murdoch universities, and later at Ultimo TAFE in Sydney. Leaving studio work to pursue a publishing career, a personal project put a camera back in her hand. “It began with the idea of a beautiful big budgie on my wall,” she says. For two years, she immersed herself in the world of budgerigar enthusiasts, attending best-in-shows to better understand her feathered subjects. The resulting series was unveiled in 2010 to a rapturous response at home and abroad. Described as ‘irresistible’ by LA tastemaker Jonathan Adler – who snapped up her work for his own home and US boutiques – Leila’s ebullient imagery transcends kitsch, illuminating the critter’s infectious personality.
Now her latest work immortalises a brilliant cast of wild cockatoos. Leila fell in love with them on a visit to Sydney’s Featherdale Wildlife Park where she spied a pair of gang-gang cockatoos. “It was magical to observe them together,” she says. “They behaved like an old married couple.” Working with the rescue groups WIRES and Sydney Wildlife, as well as zoos and private breeders, Leila set about documenting the bird’s weird and wonderful incarnations. Rendered with impressive scale and visual clarity, her cockatoos subvert conventions of studio portraiture and engage powerfully with the viewer. “I want people to form an emotional connection with the work and develop an interest in wildlife,” says Leila. “If you’re lucky enough to come across a wild cockatoo, stop and observe because they are majestic.”
Biloela – Wild Cockatoos, Tim Olsen Gallery, November 7–25; timolsengallery.com