The parrot: symbolic of our fascination with the exotic, and yet victim, too, of these preoccupations. Christine Fitzgerald
Captive is about these coveted creatures. It is a meditation on themes surrounding the often conflicted, often tenuous relationship between humans and the natural world – areas I’ve explored in previous bodies of photographic work.
In art, parrots were often used as symbols of privilege, femininity, mortality and more recently, satire. My intent through this body of work is to celebrate not just the natural beauty and character of parrots, but also to express through these birds, who we are as humans, and how we shape our world. I hope that my silent images will not only give a voice to the parrots, but will serve as mirrors for ourselves, as well as memento mori – reminding viewers about their own mortality and the fragility of life.
The seed for the project came from a news story a few years back. One of Canada’s largest rehabilitation/education centres for parrots needed a new home. A patron emerged, and a new facility just outside Ottawa was secured. I was intrigued by this avian world, and discovered that there is an active market for parrots, many of which are threatened or endangered. People buy the birds as pets and then discover that they are difficult to manage. With their incredible longevity, many parrots outlive their owners. For parrots, there are few safety nets.
These beautiful and intelligent birds live in two worlds – the natural world that is hard-wired in their genome, and a human-constructed world in which they are imprisoned. They typically have survived multiple traumas. Many are removed from social flocks in their natural environment, their wings are clipped and they are put in cages. They are frequently moved from one foster home to the next, often sold on social media. Others are trafficked illegally and bred for profit. They are remarkably clever, have brilliant colors, and their extraordinary mimicry of speech has made them humanlike; thus, their immense popularity as pets. Nevertheless, at their core, they remain wild.
Captive reflects both the struggle and resilience of parrots in society. With this body of work, I want to challenge convention and provoke thought, and on some level, help these beautiful creatures and the organization that takes care of them.
About the process
This body of work included 17 pieces, 16 of which were unique photographic prints that were created using three methods from the 19th century – the wet collodion, the gum bichromate and the platinum/palladium processes. My technique is complex, labour intensive and prints typically take several days to create. The combination of distressed collodion metal plates with pigmented gum bichromate, applied in multiple layers over a palladium layer, results in light refraction unlike a typical two-dimensional photograph, thereby providing my pieces a unique aesthetic. The multiple layers also serve to create texture and a deeper range of tonality, thereby enhancing the viewer experience.
To learn more about the work of Christine Fitzgerald please visit her page at Christine Fitzgerald.