Known for her ability to capture birds in their purest, most beautiful state, Leila Jeffreys produces portraits that are so much more than aesthetic showstoppers. Her artwork represents a deep respect for nature, a commitment to conservation and an all-encompassing concept of love—themes which make for a perfect wedding gift and an incredible addition to any couple’s home.
Born in Papua New Guinea to a multicultural family, Leila credits her parents for igniting her passion for wildlife and the wilderness. The family traveled often, and her father was a novice photographer as well. Today, Leila lives in Australia and continues to explore the globe with her portable studio, collecting exquisite portraits of her feathered friends.
“I didn’t ever expect to exhibit my work,” she shares, explaining how she took on birdwatching as a hobby during her 20s and 30s. “I became obsessed with the idea of doing a portrait of a bird back in 2008; and that was just for myself. If you look through binoculars, you can see all the details and expressions.”
Leila has developed a signature style of photographing her subjects against a blank slate, without the interference of scenery or background elements. Unlike other nature photographers and photojournalists, her process focuses solely on the birds and coaxes out their individual personalities over time.
“I can take two to four years to complete an exhibition,” she says. “It involves working with birds until they’re happy and comfortable to work with me. Sometimes, I’ll go and visit with one bird for a year before I get a portrait. It’s a slow, slow process but I think that’s what gets the results. You form a relationship with them.”
That level of dedication and genuine adoration for birds has resulted in Leila attracting a worldwide following, and her portraits are owned by celebrities such as Brooke Shields, Hugh Jackman and Elizabeth Hurley. Most recently, her collection of parakeet portraits is on exhibit at Olsen Gruin in New York City through January 19, 2020. This particular exhibition, aptly named “High Society,” includes a flock of 300 birds and three-panel video art.
“I spent my career focusing on the individual birds,” she explains, “but there’s also a society of birds. You see couples, singles and groups. Think of them as a different form of society.”
On a personal level, there’s a more significant meaning and reason behind these portraits. Leila’s passion for conservation is one of the greatest factors in her photography, and she aims to share the importance of conservation in a positive way rather than focusing on the “doom and gloom” of the planet.
“What I like to do is connect people by their hearts,” she states. “I think it’s important to talk about all the good things that are happening, because they don’t get the publicity they should. Lots of people are out there solving problems. It’s a life ambition of mine to leave the world in a better place while I’m here. It’s about meeting the bird and being a voice for them. It’s what drives me and that’s what I get excited about.”
“It connects to love,” she continues. “What’s really beautiful about it is you see these other species; and I hope I photograph them in a way that we see ourselves. It’s celebrating the beauty of wildlife, it’s celebrating all species on earth; and it supports me, which goes back to supporting these conservation organizations.” Her book of portraits, Bird Love, is also available for those who’d like to add a touch of art to their coffee table.
Leila recently traveled to Iceland to photograph puffins for her next collection, which she hopes to complete in 2021. The project will be focusing on seabirds; so, naturally, she is currently awaiting her opportunity to photograph the iconic albatross.
Learn more at leilajeffreys.com
> Written by Lauren Malamala