Portraiture often attempts to capture the essence of the sitter—their emotions, their personality, their thoughts. For photographer Tim Flach, animal subjects offer as much dynamic range and emotional intimacy as human models. The London-based artist is well known for his work with endangered species, canines, and rare birds. Building upon his prolific body of work, Flach continues to photograph the most ostentatious, colorful, and emotive feathery friends from around the world. These bird portraits connect the human viewer and the avian sitter—forging a deep bond between human and animal kingdom.
Some of Flach's recent subjects include the Peruvia Inca tern and the Toco toucan (also known as the giant toucan). The Inca tern features a bold white mustache which lends the bird a quirky smile that appears to stretch to its dark eyes. Flach writes on Instagram, “This for me, is the Salvador Dalí of the bird world.” By contrast, the Toco toucan's colorful geometry and steady gaze give an impression of strength. You might never guess that toucan chicks begin life much less colorful, as seen in Flach's image of a wrinkly young toucan. These intimate bird portraits are perfectly composed to encourage “eye contact” and empathy. Flach writes, “In a compositional sense, I will want to lead people to the most empathetic details.”
Flach has published five books of animal photographs—included among the stunning images are creatures as diverse as horses, pandas, and penguins. Although human viewers may see our own emotions reflected back in the faces and gestures of these animal subjects, Flach hopes for more than this one-sided connection. His work encourages a paradigm shift from anthropomorphism to questioning anthropocentrism—the centering of the human experience as most valuable. Can humans decenter themselves among living creatures? Can we go beyond merely attributing our own emotions to animals and recognize the unique experiences of other species as important, just like our own? While we may see human emotions reflected in the stunning bird portraits below, what else is there to see when we try to leave that “humanness” behind?
If you would like to explore more of Tim Flach's animal photography, check out his website, where you can also find information on his five published fine art books.