On 11 July 2022, Australia Post released a stamp Issue that celebrates a most Iconic Australian bird, the Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus).
The stamp photographs are by renowned portrait photographer Leila Jeffreys, whose works form part of collections in Australia and around the world.
Perth-born Leila studied photography in high school, and then at university as part of a communications degree, before moving to Sydney to study photography full time at TAFE.
Leila was also a long-time backyard birdwatcher, which led her to volunteer her time to help ornithologists, ecologists and scientists studying wildlife.
“Birds are small, they flitter around, and life is busy, so many of us don’t notice their extraordinary beauty. At the same time, they are a visual representation of mindfulness, showing us that joy is an experience that doesn’t necessarily come from owning things but simply being in the moment noticing the beauty around you. They’re also an accessible, daily reminder that life exists in the wild, outside of busy human lives,” says Leila.
Leila can pinpoint when these two interests came together:
Leila describes birds as both her muse and her subject: “I use them as a representation of nature. I feel like what probably floors me every time is the variation and how each species has evolved different specialties”.
“By presenting the birds at human size and showing every feather strand, I aim to evoke a sense of awe and wonder. I can reveal the beautiful detail that exists but is not visible to the human eye, especially with smaller birds constantly moving about,” adds Leila.
Through her photographs, Leila is seeking to evoke an emotional connection to the birds, in the hope that we recognise ourselves in them and become more empathetic towards their plight:
“A budgie flock is like a society; within the flock there are birds searching for a partner. When they find their partner, they breed and raise young. Their young are raised within the flock with other young birds, and they all learn from each other. Some birds get along, some fight. They build homes and search for food. They want to thrive,” notes Leila.
So how does Leila create her ornithological masterpieces?
“My images are the result of a slow process of searching, phases of research and investigation that can take months or sometimes years to take shape. Some portrait sessions take place over a few days, other times I have worked with birds over a twelve-month period, cultivating a relationship that is founded on trust and intimacy until the image I want to make reveals itself. I think of photography as a collaboration between myself and my subjects, one that calls for deep reserves of care, attentiveness and patience,” says Leila.
And how does Leila deal with subjects who may not be so cooperative?
“I’ve had plenty of unruly subjects, birds that I want to pose but instead want to chew the perch apart. One of the most memorable was during a photoshoot for the birds of my Prey series. We were giving the bird bits of rat meat to eat. One flew off with some in his beak and flicked the rat guts all over me and my camera. That was a messy photo shoot!” recalls Leila.
Leila believes that the key traits of a good portrait photographer are patience and perseverance: “Photoshoots involve a lot of planning and preparation and there is always a high chance you won’t capture what you had hoped to capture, so learning that that is ok and to keep striving is how you succeed, because photography is all about practice and experience.”
Starting with photographic portraiture of individual birds, Leila's work has branched out into couples, groups and now also includes video and installation art. Leila has recently exhibited an installation art piece called “Temple” with her collaborating partner Melvin J Montalban, commissioned by Vivid Sydney 2022.
"It has been a long dream of mine to do large-scale public art which involved filming Cockatoos in slow motion , 3 x 5 metres tall screens and a 7-metre reflection pool of water. The feedback from the public has been so overwhelming that it left me feeling this shared love for wildlife," says Leila.
Leila’s upcoming exhibition at Olsen Gallery in Sydney in October 2022 will be her first solo show in three years: “I am really excited to present new work, some of which represents a new direction for me,” she says.
Leila’s next big project focuses on seabirds.
“Seabirds are all over the world so that is a long-term project that won’t be completed until 2025. Next year I will be travelling to Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division to learn about the scientific work that is being done there and to study seabirds for a major book with Thames & Hudson and exhibition to be released in 2025,” says Leila.
As for now, Leila is very pleased to see her works and the subject of Budgies on Australian stamps:
“I have been so excited about the stamps! It is an honour. My aim when I started taking portraits of birds 14 years ago was to help reveal how extraordinary they are and to elevate them to a status that I believe they deserve. Stamps are reserved for kings and queens and high-achieving people – and here are Budgerigars being given the same consideration as royalty. It’s truly wonderful.”
This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release date and will not be updated.