Just like wallpaper, the plumage of parrots can be exotic or drab, eye-catching or camouflaging, colorful or practically monochrome. In Claire Rosen’s photo essay, Birds of a Feather, parrots are photographed in front of matching wallpaper, making the exotic birds appear as if they are peering out of the canopy of a forest as riotous and as colorful as they are.
An award-winning artist who also has a healthy business in commercial photography, Rosen was inspired by visit to Bird Paradise, a bird store in Burlington, New Jersey, that seemed to crowd every possible permutation of the avian class under one roof. She had originally been tasked to find a toucan for an upcoming shoot, but the bird turned out to be uncooperative. Not so the macaws, budgies, cockatoos, lovebirds, canaries, and other parrots of New Jersey’s bird Xanadu.
“Bird Paradise allowed me to set up a makeshift ‘portrait’ studio in the store lobby and I brought around 200 sheets of wallpaper from Waterhouse Wallhangings, a wholesale wallpaper warehouse, that had allowed me to go through their scrap pile for samples,” Rosen tells me. “I used a Dynalite strobe kit with soft boxes to light the wallpaper and a beauty dish with grid to light the birds. I worked with an assistant, Tom Pisano, who handled the birds and brought them carefully to set one after the other. Then I held my breath, camera-ready and waited to see what the birds would do.”
They turned out to be good subjects. Each parrot was matched with a wallpaper not just to reflect its plumage palette, but also to bring out what Rosen thought of as the bird’s personality. Although smaller birds like canaries and parakeets that weren’t used to being handled required more patience, most of Rosen’s feathered subjects practically mugged for the camera. “They were quite the characters, especially in the way they seemed to be posing for the camera,” Rosen says. “I was very drawn to the vibrant color variations of their feathers and the beaks and feet remind me of something prehistoric.”
An owner of four parakeets herself, Rosen was able to blend her love of birds with a lifelong fascination with natural history and the Victorian era.
“Ever since going on trips to the zoo and Museum of Natural History with my family, I’ve been interested in animals,” says Rosen. “I am also very influenced by the aesthetics of the Victorian Era, during which many avian pastimes became popular: the rise of luxurious aviaries, egg collections, and James Audubon’s illustrations. Many of the wallpaper patterns used in this project are reproductions from the Victorian period.”
Although the birds have all gone back to their cages at Bird Paradise, the Birds of a Feather photographs can be seen in person at Atlanta’s Hagedorn Foundation Gallery from September 18 to November 8. You can also follow Rosen on Instagram.