Birds are outstanding indicators of the health of the overall environment: think of the way they used canaries down the mines. They are readily affected by physical and chemical impacts on their ecosystems, whether these are caused by natural or man-made influences. When communities of birds change this is usually the result of an ecological change. In this body of work I tell the story of declining Biodiversity by using birds – more specifically their feathers – to send a message about what’s happening in the natural world. A shameful total of nine species of Australia's birds are known to have become extinct since European settlement and many of Australia's birds are currently threatened by a whole variety of different sources. Feathers are one of the most distinctive features of a bird’s anatomy. Feathers are fundamental to many aspects of a bird’s existence: they provide insulation essential for controlling body temperature, aerodynamic power necessary for flight, colours used for communications, and camouflage. They are also incredibly beautiful. “Flights…” is a crossover science–art project. In a technical sense obtaining such detailed and clear macro-photographs of the feathers is very challenging and requires the 'merging' of up to 200 individual photographs. The colours we see are created in complex ways – some like those of the Ibis are a result of iridescence – and sophisticated lighting arrangements are required. In a creative way the project aims to: engage the viewer in the beauty of bird plumage and at the same time highlight the disastrous loss of species. The project is in three parts: Flights of Beauty, Flights of Fantasy and Flights of Sorrow. In “Flights of Beauty” images of the feathers of a diverse range of common species are presented in a way that demonstrates their extraordinary beauty. In “Flights of Fantasy” images of ‘impossible’ feather colours and combinations are presented as an amusing set of entertaining images. In “Flights of Sorrow” we see the feathers of extinct and endangered species as a telling message about the importance of species loss. Climate change and habitat loss matter: resuscitating the canary is not enough – we need to close the mine!
Please note that no living birds were used in this project and that in many nations it is illegal to have in one's possession feathers, especially those that are from threatened species. I am endebted to Museums Victoria, Parks Victoria and Zoos Victoria for their help in providing authorised access to materials for this project.
© Gigi & Robin Williams Photography