Audubon Artist Residency

Dead or Alive?

Bird portraits explore the frozen past versus the vibrant present.

Black Crow featuring Richelle Donigan Photo: Olivia Ting

Interview with Photographer Olivia Ting who created the Dead vs. Alive photo series as part of the Six Foot Wingspan project with Sarah Bush Dance Project.

How did you get the inspiration to create this photo series?

I was fascinated by the Lyford House at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and the furnishings that came with the architecture when the entire house was transported over waters in a barge to its present location. There's something oddly preserved, and felt like a gilded receptacle of good taste and bearing. The fact that the entire house was transported also added to the strange feeling of displacement, not only in a physical sense but also of time. The glassy-eyed taxidermied birds in their awkward poses in the jars added to the mystery of this displacement.

Nuttall's Woodpecker featuring KJ Dahlaw Photo: Olivia Ting

I started with the idea of placing the dancers in their costumes and makeup - which completely separated them from the mundane into otherworldly characters in this environment and lighting them in a way that resembles the claustrophobic space within a jar. Within this jar was a composed set of props (the piano, the clock, framed bird paintings, and of course taxidermied birds in their own jars) that echo a sense of staticity.

My first request was to direct the dancer in a very contained pose at the start of the shoot, and then asking them to give free rein in interpreting their characters or how they feel in the costumes. The rest was editing post-shoot to see which images set up the best dialogue between those embodiments. 

Cedar Waxwing featuring Risa Ofelia Diaz Photo: Olivia Ting
Black-necked Stilt featuring Sue Li Ju Photo: Colleen Quen

In a way, this contrast speaks to me of human's attempt to control and categorize nature in a manner that suits their interests, rather than listening and learning from the habits of these denizens of nature themselves to learn how we can adapt. It speaks to the process of how humans have gone down the route of believing they can control nature, but that sentiment has brought us to the dire state of Earth's environment.

Red-shouldered Hawk featuring Molly Tsongas Photo: Olivia Ting

What do the Audubon prints mean to you in light of what we now know about the traumatic history of John James Audubon?

The photos are a commentary on the prints - being taxidermied, colonized, stuffed, and posed awkwardy in a glass jar or stylized in a book. But the constrasting poses offer hope of breaking free of that entrenchment. 

Cardinal Crow featuring Frances Teves Sedayao Photo: Olivia Ting

How did you get involved in the wingspan project?

Very funny - social media! I think Sarah and I have circulated in six degrees of the Bay Area dance community but never quite made it into each other's direct orbits. But during the pandemic I was taking walks around the lake near my house because my gym was shut down, and being the terribly undisciplined athlete that I am, I ended stopping half the time to take photos with my phone. The more interesting subjects were birds, so I posted them on my Instagram, and Sarah saw them and reached out to me. 

Western Meadowlark featuring Sarah Bush Photo: Olivia Ting

What is your relationship to birds like now?

Given my "alternative" hearing with hearing aids and a cochlear implant, I didn't realize alot of the sounds I was in my neighborhood were birds. And loads of them in my own backyard! It was during my Zoom conversations with Sarah where she would tell me wow there so many bird sounds! that I started distinguishing and identifying bird sounds! Now when I walk around the lake by my house I start to notice distinctions about the birds I see there and there's alot!

Snowy Egret featuring Oscar Trujillo Photo: Olivia Ting

Your professional title and background, and any links to your business/org/website that you'd like to include.

Visual artist, projection video design, graphic design, photographer. Website:

Cardinal Crow featuring Frances Teves Sedayao Photo: Olivia Ting

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