Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me, you have such a wonderful body of work.
It is intriguing to watch a starling murmuration already, and I am curious as to what led you as an artist to start focusing on these phenomenons in your work?
These images differ from your previous work in portraiture and it is amazing to see your skill with these photos as well.
In 2017 I was working on a 25-year retrospective portrait book and exhibition at Frederiksborg Castle, the National Portrait Collection in Denmark. I was going through all my portraits for a year and decided that I wanted to do a new project that was not about portraiture. The first thing that came to my mind was an image of a big flock of starlings I had seen flying in intriguing formations as a ten-year-old. I decided to go to the Wadden Sea on the Danish West Coast where starling murmurations take place in spring and fall. Initially, it was all about practicalities like locating the birds and learning about their behavior. On the seventh night I was there I witnessed a large flock of starlings getting attacked by a peregrine falcon. The shapes and formations the flock created, in order to scare off the attacking bird of prey, blew my mind. Beautiful, dramatic, and resembling a Japanese ink drawing or a piece of calligraphy. For the next two years, I spent time my time in that area whenever the birds were there. After the second year, I started following the birds as they migrated south and west and thus expanded the project to five other countries: Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and the UK.
While learning about your work for Black Sun, I read that you are able to capture these images within a still frame. When working with your equipment and these rare phenomena, can you walk us through your process of when you are outside with your camera and ready to capture these images? I imagine there are a lot of emotions you must feel while witnessing something so incredible.
A lot of research and preparation goes into photographing starling murmurations. As they are migrating birds, the first task is to find out where the large flocks of birds are located. I then scout the location and find what I think will be an ideal spot in terms of light direction, background, and without physical obstacles like trees or powerlines. After these preparations, it is a waiting game. The birds gather in the evening prior to going to rest in the reed forest. You never know when something visually interesting will happen. And it may only last for seconds. Therefore it is a question of being 100% tuned in with the birds and having my cameras ready to photograph at any moment. This meditative state gives me a heightened sense of presence. Whenever a spectacular “ballet” has happened it leaves me naturally high for hours.
You have traveled across Europe to capture these images, and I can imagine this project has given you a different outlook on art and how your work will develop moving forward. How would you say this project has affected you as an artist?
In my work up until this project, I have always worked as a director, a creator. I have been in charge of creating concepts, ideas, and moods in my images. With Black Sun I have opened up to connecting with and receiving from nature. I have used my previously earned skills afterward in the editing process, finding a visual expression for the images, choosing a paper to print the images on, etc. All in all, it has been a very humbling experience to let go of the control of a project.
Finally, there is definitely a sense of awe that one feels when looking at these amazing images of the birds and the shapes that they make. Ultimately, what would you like for your audience to gain or take away from viewing the photos of the starling murmurations? How has viewing these murmurations changed your outlook on nature?
I believe that patterns in nature speak to us human beings on a deep universal level. There is joy and recognition when we experience these pure forms. To me, they seem to form a kind of language, that I believe many people can relate to.
I was relieved when I recently read that the ancient Romans placed an oracle on the Aventine Hill to interpret the shapes of the starling flocks. They believed the Divine was speaking to them through the birds. I realized am not alone with my awe and fascination. Ultimately I am hoping to inspire a deeper connection with nature – and to ourselves.
All images with courtesy of Soren Solkaer