Birds of Firle (2020-2030)

Bird of Firle - a decade-long collective project led by Tanya Shadrick of The Selkie Press
a single edition book of 21 rook images being posted in sequence to one hundred collaborators across a decade, inviting responses on grief & hope as the things with feathers
as featured by Little Toller’s The Clearing

On New Year’s Day 2020, Birds of Firle – a single edition, handmade book by artist and writer Tanya Shadrick – was placed in the post to the first of 100 recipients in the UK and overseas who have committed to respond to it across a decade with words, sound, images and artefacts. It is an exercise in slow art – and a cumulative, communal creative practice.

Read Tanya’s essay for Little Toller’s The Clearing on the backstory of the project.

How it works

Each participant receives the following letter, as context and invitation:

“All of the images – simple as the tools and skills with which I made them – date from the winter of 2018, a time of complicated grief: the kind that can’t be shared; when the loss is private, pained; not really known to those around one.

I determined to weather it, simply. To drive in school hours to the highest, wildest point in my local area and sit tight. Cry, sleep, eat. Write a little. Read a lot. And I did – a book a day sometimes. The Nobel Laureates. Some idea that my life would assume its right proportions again by feeling itself small & humble in the presence of all the lives real and imagined in those books from so many nations, faiths, decades. That I might mend in this way my concentration and courage both.

The first bird surprised me while I was resting my eyes. A jackdaw level with my driver seat window, held still in the strong wind up there on the Beacon. After that, watching the rooks and ravens that gather there became a deliberate part of each day.

Birds of Firle - Credit Tanya Shadrick

When I first began to put the images online, several people asked if I was working after the example of the late Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase, who began to study ravens obsessively after loss. I didn’t know of him then, but discovering his work made me more not less committed to what I was doing – & to sharing my birds in a way that the very expensive and limited editions of his exquisite images cannot be.

I have not yet found creativity or nature or even friendship to be a cure-all for sorrow. The images for a long time felt only to be a concentrate of failure, loneliness, confusion. But the growing purpose of my visits there, as I learned about the birds and waited for them, began to make other creative work come – and then the unexpected connections that happen whenever one puts new things out into the world. The loss remained a stubborn hollow space (is so still). But, very slowly, life expanded around it. Colour returned.

And hope. In sending this book out now, I anticipate gladly the words, images and conversations that might follow from it.”

Note: Birds of Firle began on New Year’s Day 2020: soon afterwards life changed for us all due to the spread of Coronavirus. In those two years of our new and necessary solitudes, it felt even more heartening to have the book go slowly to and from people all over the world.


Each reply that comes back is photographed, along with its enclosed artefacts, and added then to the online gallery.

Written responses are curated at Selkie Press Stories.

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