On the west coast of Denmark, Sren Solkaer was ten years old when he saw his first starling murmuration: over 100,000 birds producing movies in the sky as they were being corralled by a falcon. It would be over 40 years before the photographer, who is best known for personal, often whimsical pictures of artists and musicians, returned to this childhood haunt, devoting a week to photographing the birds in flight.
That was five years ago, and Solkr hasn’t stopped, with an exhibition and book, Black Sun, dedicated to the murmurations. “I’ve pretty much done that every winter since,” he says, adding that he has no intentions to stop anytime soon. Despite his youthful awakening, Solkr had never focused his lens on birds before. “I still don’t picture individual birds because I don’t find depicting a bird visually attractive, and it doesn’t interest me artistically.”
In actuality, Black Sun has eight unique photos of starlings. “They genuinely appear like small dots of ink in my enormous images,” Solkr explains, “because they actually look like small dots of ink in my big photographs.” I wanted to demonstrate that they’re stunning metallic birds.”
As he watched the starlings’ migration across Europe, from Denmark to Rome to Catalonia, Solkr grew intrigued with them – not merely the forms they formed with their perfectly coordinated motions, but also their ecosystem. He began with the Wadden Sea, a Unesco World Heritage site that runs over sections of the Danish, German, and Dutch coasts and is the world’s biggest uninterrupted system of intertidal mudflats.
Murmurations, locally known as “sort sol” – or “black sun” – darken the skies every spring and autumn, giving the novel its title. The reason why starlings murmur is a mystery. One idea holds that large flocks help the birds stay warm before going to roost, while another holds that it increases each individual’s chances of survival when attacked by aerial predators.
Lead Image: The shape of a cat appears in this murmuration. Photograph: Søren Solkær.
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