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Ian Campbell

After Birds


The Batesville Area Arts Council presented After Birds, an exhibition by Ian Campbell, at the BAAC Gallery on Main March 2 – April 17, 2021. After Birds is an ongoing series of infrared photographs documenting the habitats of extinct, endangered, and disappearing species of American birds. Each photograph borrows its title and aspects of its design from the corresponding image from John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-1838, Havell edition). The sites depicted are locations where Campbell has personally observed (or attempted to observe) a given species of bird.

Campbell describes this body of work as a “response to John James Audubon’s landmark suite of bird paintings. Each of my images is inspired by and builds upon an Audubon illustration, borrowing details of composition and design to create a dialog between past, present, and future.  Yet the birds themselves are conspicuously absent from my photographs. Referencing Audubon is not just about paying tribute to a great artist, it is also a cautionary tale. Out of the 435 species in Birds of America, 7 species and 2 subspecies are extinct as a result of human actions. Dozens more are endangered, threatened, or rapidly declining in numbers. A recent study published in Science found that the North American bird population has dropped by 3 billion birds, or 29%, since the 1970’s. Even some birds that are still relatively common are rapidly disappearing. The reasons are complex: habitat loss, pollution, poaching, invasive species, global warming, and other factors add up to a very uncertain future for many birds. Rachel Carson began Silent Spring by asking her readers to imagine a spring without birdsong. Like Carson, I am crafting a “a fable for tomorrow.” My goal is to visualize a landscape devoid of avian life, haunted by the ghosts of lost birds.”


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