Giorgia Valli hates zoos. When she was a child, it made her cry to see caged animals. And yet, she has produced a hauntingly beautiful series of photographs taken entirely in the Bronx Zoo’s World of Birds. Titled Aves Mei, the series is on view at Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles through December 19 and will be published in book form in November by Nazraeli/Solomon.
The Italian photographer, who lives in Bergamo, Italy, had been working in New York City for six months in 2013, taking fashion photographs for Grey magazine. She had little time for her own work, though, and depressed and at loose ends, she made the seemingly counterintuitive decision to visit the zoo. “I thought I’d go to a place I hate, where I feel bad, to see if I could find a reaction,” she said. “To shock myself, maybe.”
In fact, when she walked into the World of Birds, she felt an immediate connection. Her quiet, ruminative photographs are as much about the enclosures as about the individual birds. She titled each piece with the name of the bird and letters referring to addresses of places she has lived. It quickly becomes clear, though, that the titles are a sort of personal code, because she eliminates the consonants, leaving only a set of vowels – IAE • AAI • OE Pied Imperial Pigeon, for example. Her images reflect her feelings and memories about certain places and times. All of the places she’s lived, she writes on her website, “have been to me sometimes like nests and sometimes like cages.”
And so it is with these photographs, which are both beautiful and discomfiting. In some, the bird has its back to the camera, and it seems forlorn. In others, like Roseate Spoonbill, the birds seem to congregate in a more sociable huddle. But one beautiful, deep blue photograph says it all – Untitled (Cage Maintenance) shows what looks like a natural rocky plain, except for the ladder lying across it, a sign that it’s all an elaborate fiction.