With a motion sensor camera and an inviting wooden post, photographer Stephen Gill created a studio in a Swedish field. The extraordinary images in his book “The Pillar” feature avian actors from sparrow to bird of prey.
When photographer Stephen Gill first moved from London to southern Sweden in 2014, he experienced the landscape as vast, lifeless and virtually empty – perhaps because life in sparsely populated Skåne was so different from that in the British capital. But being a photographer, Gill was curious about his surroundings and one year later, started an experiment that would fascinate him for the next four years: On the edge of a field near his home, he drove a 1.5-meter wooden post into the ground and installed a motion sensor camera on a second post alongside it. Soon, the perch began attracting a host of birds, from tree sparrows to great egrets.
The region is home to 192 bird species, 24 of which Gill was able to identify (along with deer and a fox). “I was interested in the birds presenting themselves and individual birds’ characters. I also like that they were all off beat, a little wrong or awkward away from how we tend to project or portray nature,” he explains. The result is one of the most pleasing and engaging series of nature photographs ever taken. “The birds made the images themselves – I removed myself from the process as far as possible, leaving the stage to them,” says Gill. His subjects used the post to clean their feathers, stare unblinkingly into the camera, perform acrobatic landings and compete with each other for the prized perch. The action was captured by a simple camera of the type used by field workers and hunters. “The way it was adjusted at first, the motion sensor was far too sensitive and responded to the movement of every blade of grass and gust of wind,” he recalls.
Gill may have taken a back seat as a photographer, but his artistic eye is evident in the layout and composition of the book, which purposely includes blurred images: “High-definition images and a sharp focus can often tend to suffocate nature,” he explains, “but a lack of focus in some of the photographs once again gives the birds space to breathe and a magic retained.”
Natural talent center stage