My love of photography started with printing and the magic of the darkroom. For more than 25 years I developed my films and printed in my darkroom, spending many hours trying to get my pictures as I wanted them to be seen, in many shades of black and white.
I learned my skills mostly from my father George Llewellyn, who was an excellent photographer and a meticulous printer.
But the taking of the photographs came easily for me and, on the whole, I call myself an opportunist. Apart from some portraits, I never plan a picture. It is suddenly in front of me, the light and the composition are all there.
When my father was in his 80’s he took up a digital camera and started printing on his computer and encouraged me to do likewise. It took me a while to take to it, but the immediacy and the introduction of colour was very liberating. I’ve always used Leica cameras, which turned digital as I did, and now I also use a Canon.
I transferred, with difficulty, my dark room skills into the light (I am not a natural with computers, but digital photos taken in RAW are very forgiving). I have now, after 20 years, finally dismantled my dark room and transformed it into a space for making large prints.
I still see in B&W while I have a camera around my neck but, I take more images that I print in colour than I ever imagined I would. The magic isn’t the same as in the dark room, but the convenience makes up for that and the digital printing world has its own charms. Like with wet printing, the images are made as much as taken.
I have never had lessons and maybe it all would have been easier if I’d had some proper tuition. But I’ve never been much of a student, so I wiIl have to continue to rely on experience and experimentation. My work always seems to evolve in ways I don’t see coming.
“I think her work is extraordinary. She manages to capture the very essence of Antarctica as I experienced it, yet makes it her own. A tiny bird snatched out of snowstorm, a crabeater seal clinging for life on a diminishing square of ice … she photographs life where there should be none and almost effortlessly recreates the eternal drama. Once again, I am in awe.”
Anthony Horowitz, author
"Work of outstanding quality and impact ... a photographic eye that deserves the broadest acknowledgement ... an emotive connection to each one of her subjects delivered with superb technical ability."
Robin Woodhead, ex-Chairman, Sotheby’s International
“A black-and-white photograph of a black and white church photographed in a snowstorm against a bleached sky in which ground and air seem connected through the promise of a distant horizon. The scene is made immediate by the short diagonal flecks of falling snow.
The image is dark but full of feeling, the means limited but the effect wide. It talks of a human need for shelter not just for the body but for our imagined visions of the other side of an unknown and ill-perceived horizon.
A photograph is the registration of a time in a place. Photography is a form of witness. It is the proof of a moment lived and a place perceived and inhabited. At their best these simple coordinates of procedure become a meditation on time, place and memory.
Birkbeck seems attracted to the remote : Patagonia, Antarctica, the Galapagos, Loch Hourn, places apart in which the choreography of weather works on geology. In these places her work asks whether it is possible to register the internal in witnessing the exterior.
There is a great tension between her empathic treatment of human subjects: in which she captures a moment of connectedness between people and these stark often uninhabited places into which she projects an equal sense of engagement.
These byproducts of an act of witness are only available to an open spirit humming with life. It is in this generous spirit that she offers us as a ground for our own feeling and thought.”
Antony Gormley, artist