Deborah Samuel’s photographs in The Extraordinary Beauty of Birds are as surprising as they are exquisite. From nest to egg to feather, these images are an exercise in seeing and a showcase of what photography can reveal: the impossibly soft feathers of ospreys; the iridescence of a bird-of-paradise; the curved, needle-like beak of a common scimitarbill; and the psychedelic hues of the aptly named resplendent quetzal. Samuel also photographs the nests and eggs of birds, showing us examples of incredible artistry and simple, natural perfection.
The Extraordinary Beauty of Birds After darkness comes the light. Metaphorically and spiritually, birds have become the agents of that transition. In their flight they break free of the earth, with all its complications and anxiety, and soar above it in a realm closer to heaven. They are symbols of freedom and harbingers of whatever lies above. In 1958, Ferlin Husky sang, ‘On the wings of a snow white dove . . . A sign from above, on the wings of a dove’. Birds inspire us. Their flight is transfixing. They are compelled by mysterious instincts to feats of migratory endurance far beyond their size and apparent strength. Their beauty is limitless and rare. When we are weighed down with worries and burdens, they lift our spirits. In our dreams, the bird expresses the possibility of escape – the desire for liberty. Who can forget the film Birdman of Alcatraz, a story of a man whose tender care of birds helped him survive in prison? Historically, women and men have festooned themselves with feathers to enhance their beauty or to represent strength or nobility. A white dove with an olive branch has long been one of the most popular international symbols of peace. But of course birds have also been seen as agents of loss, deception, and even horror. Think of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven or Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. Birds seem to embody our deepest emotions – their flight can literally carry us away. Birdwatching is an enormously popular hobby throughout the world. In the United States alone, it is estimated that there are approximately 48 million dedicated ‘birders’. As Joseph Wood Krutch puts it, ‘it is the joy that cannot be analysed’. Birdwatchers will travel long distances to sit in motionless, meditative silence, hoping to see a bird. And failure does not deter them. What is it that captivates them, that inspires such passionate devotion? Perhaps it is the simple idea that when birds fly up above our heads and off into the vast horizon, it is not only profoundly beautiful but an act of liberation, an expression of life’s boundless possibilities. These photographs are the soaring conclusion to a meditation on what it means to be alive, following an exploration of the meaning of death and its inevitable place in life. With these images we take off into the limitless potential of living – its beauty, its abstraction, its endless options. Many of the photographs are stunningly beautiful – like the one showing the downy white feathers of an Osprey or the topography of the Black Sicklebill. In the diptych of an American Robin Egg and Nest there is the architecture of all life in one powerful image. The feathered eye of an Osprey looks back at you as if to remind you that you are not alone. The Extraordinary Beauty of Birds is full of unexpected portraits and of abstract ideas personified through art. This is one photographer’s journey to the light, a celebration of the beauty in life.
Deborah Samuel is Canadian photographer currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her photographs reside in many public, corporate and private collections and her work has been widely exhibited internationally. After working extensively as a commercial artist and winning numerous awards, she now focuses exclusively on fine art projects.