Art, colour and incredible detail of feathers

Review: Lyn Mair

Birds,  by  Tim Flach (Abrams, New York /Jonathan Ball )

Birds is a magnificent coffee-table book as much about art and colour as it is about birds.

The photographic medium is the perfect way to show, up close, the incredible diversity and complexity of the fantastic creatures we see every day.

They flit about so quickly that it is impossible to appreciate the variety and tiny details of their feathers, but as author Tim Flach tells us in the prologue, the images were taken of captive birds.

In some cases, special aviaries were set up with cameras and lights in situ with people around to accustom the birds to their surroundings. He had a team of photographic assistants and a specialised bird handler enabling the birds to be photographed in a relaxed state and in their prime condition.

The chapters are arranged in an evolutionary sequence with insightful introductions to each section by Richard O Prum, a leading evolutionary ornithologist and plumage specialist from Yale University.

The chapters begin with origins and the first two images are of an egg from the smallish oviraptor dinosaur and the fossilised remains of archaeopteryx, proving that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

The uncluttered backgrounds – mostly black or white – portray each image to its fullest potential. The most arresting image, for me, is on page 203 – the military macaw shown in flight, to perfection, against a bright emerald background.

If you are out in the field birdwatching it is likely you may get only the merest fleeting glance of one of these wonders of nature but this book, in all its glory, portrays the intricate detail of each and every feather; spots, stripes and in some cases a variety of colours in one feather as well as the different structures, sizes and shapes which, at a distance, you would never see.

The curl, the length, wispiness or density of each feather is shown to perfection. It is like looking through a magnifying glass – which in fact you are doing with the close up and enlarged images.

Facial markings are shown in detail with dots and minuscule feathers. The close-ups of the beaks of toucans and macaws are extraordinary with serrated edges and the wildest colours.

More details and acknowledgements can be found at the back of the book. Most importantly there are thumbnails with the birds’ names, where they are found in the wild and snippets of really interesting information written by John Nash and Tessa King

I don’t particularly like the full frontal portrayal of some of the birds as this is seldom seen in the wild and, if at all, only momentarily as the birds are usually gone long before you get that close.

The comment regarding the Inca tern as “comical” is a bit unfair as it is a most elegant tern and when seen in flight the white moustache stretches out and lies neatly along the side of the head and neck, contrasting beautifully against the deep sooty grey of the body.

People ask if I have a favourite bird, which I don’t, but I do have some favourites among the species and the Inca tern is definitely my favourite tern.  Happily I saw several around the coastal area near Valparaiso in Chile.

The book is an art form of an extravaganza of close-up images of birds of all colours and sizes from disparate parts of the world.

It’s large and very expensive, but if you can afford it would be a wonderful book to add to your library.


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