Francesca Todde, a photographic education in birds

Photographer Francesca Todde in front of a large print of her portrait of Tristan Plot with the crow Bayo.

© Siegfried Forster / RFI

Text by: Siegfried Forster Follow

9 mins

Being discreet is quite an art.

Especially as a photographer.

Francesca Todde learned it with birds from Tristan Plot, an ornithotherapist living with a "troop" of bird artists.

Interview on the occasion of his exhibition “A Sensitive Education” at the Festival of young European photography “Circulation (s)”, at the Centquatre in Paris and online.


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Tristan is a bird educator.

Thanks to his ability to enter into communication and communion with birds (" 

a kind of meditation

 "), he manages, for example, to convince his crow Bayo, his white stork Mildred or his barn owl Boubo to "play" or rather "fly" in films or plays by well-known directors like Pascal Quignard and Marie Vialle.

Suddenly, the extraordinary sensitivity of Tristan struck the eye and touched the heart of the Italian photographer Francesca Todde.

Equipped with her very sharp black mask (a tribute to Bayo's black beak?), She tells us about her revelations and how she, the image hunter, converted to image fishing.


: How did the idea for this photographic project with Tristan Plot come about


Francesca Todde


I have been working since 2011 on the relationship between humans and animals.

And I have also worked for a long time with the Théâtre du Centaure in Marseille.

During a theater show at the Festival d'Avignon, I met Tristan and asked him if I could visit him at his house and follow him on tour.

Tristan works on the education of birds to make them participate in theater shows, cinema films or documentaries.

He also practices ornithotherapy, a new science that he is experimenting with inmates of Poitiers prison.

It is a kind of mediation through the birds.

But, since birds are not mammals, it is very complicated.

In the exhibition “A Sensitive Education” by photographer Francesca Todde at the “Circulation (s)” Festival in Paris and online.

© Siegfried Forster / RFI

What particularly fascinates you about this bird educator


I have always been fascinated by birds.

I read books on ethology [

the scientific study of the behavior of animal species, including humans, editor's note

], by Konrad Lorenz who talks a lot about jackdaws, those little corvids with blue eyes, intelligence birds.

What interests me is to question the animal in a different way from the one we are used to.

For example, can we imagine empathy between animals and us, knowing that we are also animals.

Can we imagine playing together, entering into intellectual communication with them?

Tristan is a bird trainer.

Do they really play a role in plays or in the cinema


La Rive dans le noir

, by Pascal Guignard and Marie Vialle was a super beautiful piece.

There were two birds from Tristan: the barn owl Boubo and the crow Bayo.

It was a metaphysical piece.

They played the roles of day and night.

What is very beautiful in Tristan's work, above all, he takes the time to work with the birds at their own pace.

This is one of the most important things about his method.

Suddenly, he never forces.

It is always something that happens in communication with the birds, never by force.

It is always something very delicate.

It's beautiful to see the fragility of the staging with the birds.

They are not machines that fly from side to side.

For them, too, it's a game.

View of the exhibition “A Sensitive Education” by photographer Francesca Todde at the “Circulation (s)” Festival in Paris and online.

© Siegfried Forster / RFI

As a photographer, what have you learned about the sensitivity of birds


I discovered that the animal as we always hear it, ferocity, in fact, it does not exist.

Animals are much more delicate than us.

They have expressive codes which are made from minimal variations.

To enter into communication with them, you have to be hyper attentive and educate your own sensitivity to seek to come into contact with them.

For me, with photography, that's exactly it too.

When I started this documentary project on his work, at the beginning, it was horizontal.

Afterwards, I saw that there was something I was missing.

So, I looked a little further and above all I spent time.

I said to myself: the project will be finished when it is finished.

It lasted two and a half years.

I switched to another look.

To a look from someone who is still and waiting for things to happen.

What else has changed about you


I also had to change my approach to the birds.

I changed my clothes, because some clothes are interpreted by birds as dangerous.

For example, when there are things floating in the air, it is not good for them.

I had to educate myself to enter into intimacy with the birds.

For this, almost all the photographs are taken vertically.

These are details, very subtle things that tell invisible things.

View of the exhibition “A Sensitive Education” by photographer Francesca Todde at the “Circulation (s)” Festival in Paris and online.

© Siegfried Forster / RFI

Can we speak of an “





It is especially sensitive.

You have to match your own rhythm with the rhythm of others.

You also mention the starlings which change color according to the seasons.

What have you learned as a photographer about color


It’s super interesting.

I didn't know any of this before.

Tristan taught me everything.

Birds see things differently, they see waves of light that we don't see, for example UV [

ultraviolet, note


We don't know how the birds see each other.

The starling, for example, part of its color is made by the pigments, the melanin present on its feathers.

Green and purple are a refraction of light.

Since the first containment and the start of the pandemic, cities have emptied and, at the same time, populated more birds.

Has people's outlook on your work changed


He has changed a lot.

In Italy, we too, during the first confinement, we always had the blackbird at night singing in the empty streets.

We realized that we are interconnected with animals.

We understood that it would be very interesting to understand them and reach out to them.

We had printed 300 books and we have already sold them all [

the second edition of the book will be available from May

], despite this pandemic year.

It gives the impression that people are really interested in this subject right now.

It's beautiful.

View of the exhibition “A Sensitive Education” by photographer Francesca Todde at the “Circulation (s)” Festival in Paris and online.

© Siegfried Forster / RFI

A distinction is sometimes made between image hunters and others who go fishing or gathering the images.

How do you see yourself as a photographer


It's very strange [laughs].

When I started this project with Tristan, I thought of the photo a bit like going hunting.

But, very quickly, at Tristan's, I no longer wanted to hunt.

When we first met, I didn't even take out the camera.

I was almost afraid to tell him.

I didn't want to shoot and then say stop.

Afterwards, little by little, I also confided to Tristan my doubts about hunting [photos].

In addition, the human eye and also the eye of the photographer, for birds, it is the eye of a predator.

The camera is a very large eye, very worrying for them.

So, we talked a lot about that and at a certain point, he said to me: you know, the photo can be a way of taking, but it can also be a way of giving.

That's what gave me the freedom to do my job.

The question of hunting and fishing, as a photographer, is very interesting.

When you do film photography, you feel a little more fisherman.

► Francesca Todde:

A Sensitive Education

, exhibition at the 2021 “Circulation (s)” Festival at the Centquatre, in Paris, and online, until May 2, 2021.

► The website of the independent publishing house Départ Pour L'Image, co-founded by Francesca Todde with the artist Luca Reffo


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