An Incomplete Dictionary of Show Birds

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04_PressImage l Luke Stephenson, Bearded Reedling
Luke Stephenson Bearded Reedlings, 2016© Luke Stephenson. Courtesy of The Photographers' Gallery

Photographer Luke Stephenson captures these finely feathered creatures in all of their gorgeousness

How many birds do we pass every day without ever really stopping to look at them? Luke Stephenson’s unconventional series celebrates our feathered companions in all of their iridescent glory. Block colour backgrounds enhance the illustrious plumage of these seemingly ordinary birds, and Stephenson’s application of photographic portraiture techniques to such unexpected subjects helps to convey their unmistakably distinct personalities. Finches and robins stare disdainfully at the viewer from their haughty perches, whereas others possess an undeniably avian sass.

Stephenson is well known for his vivid images of the eccentric pursuits which make up contemporary British life. He is especially interested in offbeat subcultures, immersing himself in the worlds surrounding his subjects in order to produce delightfully kitschy studies on the intricacies of our peculiar obsessions. This series, for example, explores the little-known world of show bird competitions, where hopefuls bring their plumed and groomed fowls to compete for beauty trophies. Stephenson was influenced by prize pigeon photography and set out to photograph budgies in the same way, but his foray into the world of show bird competitions led him to a fascination with bird-keeping and the people involved in it. He now regards himself as a ‘bird-keeper’ of sorts, and this series documents his dedication to photographing coveted species.

Not only do Stephenson’s birds have charisma, but the names of each species paired with the images read like poetry. From a myriad of Silverbills to the White Throated Bee Eater, through to the Goldcrest and a family of Sunbirds, these photos are enough to remove the stuffy stigma associated with avian enthusiasm and bring an appreciation of the often-overlooked beauty of birds to a wider audience. An Incomplete Dictionary of Show Birds is a perfect antidote to a wintry Monday; it might even cause you to stop and look a little closer the next time you spot a bird on a grey city street.

An Incomplete Dictionary of Show Birds runs at The Photographers' Gallery from until February 19, 2017. In Fine Feather, which features more of Stephenson’s work, runs at Selfridges until April 3, 2017.