Francesca Todde illustrates the sympathy and sensitivity between human beings and animals

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Bird mentor Tristan Plot can tell if a bird is on edge from the position of its wings. Todde’s images explore this particular symbiotic connection with his pets

Francesca Todde met bird educator Tristan Plot for the first time within Avignon, in south-east France. Plot arrived with his 2 barn owls and a crow. As the crow flew in the direction of Todde, she noticed an unusual smell – one native to the bird – wafting towards her with each beat of its pitch-black wings. “It smelt like the terrain, like ink. I fell in love. I took a feather that acquired fallen to the earth and put it in my wallet. This stayed there for the following three years, ” she states.  

For Milan-based photographer and publisher Todde, this marked the first day of her two-and-half-year project, A Delicate Education. Todde is currently exhibiting the work at Cortona On the go in Tuscany, Italy. The girl images hang under a middle ages castle, from the chalky ceilings of a cave. A swarm of bats that have lived on the space weave around her work, skimming the perimeter of her delicate images. The setting is apt, considering the project’s focus on the particular symbiotic relationship between creatures and humans. “It’s the perfect exchange, ” Todde comments.

From ‘A Sensitive Education’ © Francesca Todde.

From ‘A Sensitive Education’ © Francesca Todde.

What motivated Todde to study birds? The Australian ethologist Konrad Lorenz. “He talks about how jackdaws play a game when they fly. When there is a lot of wind, they will keep their wings closed until the last moment. Such as humans, wild animals don’t simply move out of necessity. ” In 2011, Todde began looking for people who work with birds, to be the subject of a new task. In 2017, she fulfilled Plot, and A Sensitive Education began.

Plot uses “soft methods” to train an array of wild birds – from swans to pigeons – so they can be used in shows. His technique revolves around eliminating stress from the birds’ environment so they better rely on humans. “Tristan is really attentive to minuscule signals, ” says Todde. He can tell if a bird is on advantage from the position of its wings, she says, and taught Todde not to look at the birds directly, as it made them nervous. The barn owl, Boubo, was terrified of Todde’s camera lens, so she showed him the particular camera for 15 minutes prior to shooting. Averting her look became a mantra for the entire project, she says, even if she selected the pictures.

From ‘A Sensitive Education’ © Francesca Todde.

Todde invested up to 15 days during a period living with Plot in his home in the French countryside associated with Poitiers, watching, waiting. “Normally nothing happens. Just times of looking at the sky awaiting Tristan’s stork to return, ” she says. Only one picture in the series is posed – the picture of Plot holding an iridescent starling.

However , Todde cherished removing all time constraints. At the beginning of the shoot, she seemed a “predator”. She had been someone with an “intention to take something and leave”, and the birds could sense this. Abandoning those preconceptions allowed her to take photographs that depicted the same feeling she had when she required them – a state of conscious meditation on the bird’s sensibility. “So that’s exactly why it’s called A Delicate Education ”, she says, “The title refers to me too, to the things I learnt about myself during this project”.

The Sensitive Education by Francesca Todde is currently on show at Cortona on the Move within Tuscany, Italy, until 03 October 2021.  

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