What birds can teach us: the photography of Sanna Kannisto and Leila Jeffreys, moderated by David Rothenberg
“If we are going to have a new connection to the environment it will have to happen in individual hearts and souls…the artist can help us fall in love with the Earth again.” – Paul Berensohn
Birds have always been natural subjects for nature photographers. Birds broaden our perspectives. Through them, we view different ways of seeing life. It ignites change in us because we start seeing the world from a different angle. As a result, our minds become more expansive and can better empathise with all living beings on this beautiful planet.
What does it take to transform such imagery into art? Sanna Kannisto, with her book ‘The Observing Eye’, and Leila Jeffreys, with her latest project ‘High Society’, take images of our avian friends to a new level.
Leila Jeffreys (b.1972) is an Australian contemporary artist. Best known for visceral and mysterious images of birds that explore and subvert the traditions of portraiture, increasingly, Jeffreys’ work as an artist is inextricable from her concerns as an environmentalist. Working in the tradition of artist-activists, the artist collaborates with conservationists, ornithologists, select bird enthusiasts and sanctuaries around the world to find her subjects before forging an intimate relationship with the birds that she photographs. For Jeffreys, birds are both medium and message, bringing into focus the fleeting and precious connections that bind us to the natural world. Jeffreys is represented by Olsen Gallery in Sydney and Purdy Hicks Gallery in London, and has held solo exhibitions in Sydney, London, New York and Hong Kong.
Sanna Kannisto graduated from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki in 2002. Focusing on themes related to flora and fauna, Kannisto’s artistic approach is influenced by both scientific research methods and art history. In her work, human-made order and untamed creatures meet in a way that offers viewers a wide range of interpretations. Since 2002, she has exhibited widely across Europe, the USA and South America, for example at: Aperture Gallery, New York (2011), Mercosul Biennial, Brazil (2011), Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki (2012), Kunsthall Stavanger, Norway (2017), Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki (2017), Galería El Ojo Ajeno/ Centro de La Imagen, Lima, Peru (2019), and the Finnish Museum of Photography (2020). Her works are represented in the public collections of, among others, the Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Maison Européenne de la Photographie—MEP (Paris), the Fotomuseum Winterthur, (Switzerland), and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki). In 2015, Sanna Kannisto received the Finnish State Prize for Photographic Art.
Musician and philosopher David Rothenberg wrote Why Birds Sing, Bug Music, Survival of the Beautiful and many other books, published in at least eleven languages. He has more than thirty recordings out, including One Dark Night I Left My Silent House which came out on ECM, and most recently In the Wake of Memories and They Say Humans Exist. He has performed or recorded with Pauline Oliveros, Peter Gabriel, Ray Phiri, Suzanne Vega, Scanner, Elliott Sharp, Iva Bittová, and the Karnataka College of Percussion. Nightingales in Berlin is his latest book, CD, and film. Rothenberg is Distinguished Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.