Interview: Søren Solkær

    Danish photographer Søren Solkær takes incredible fine art photos of starling murmurations, a phenomenon known in Denmark as the “black sun”. Since 2017, Solkær has pursued his photographic exploration of starlings, a passion he first encountered as a child, growing up in the southern part of Denmark, where he experienced the captivating formations near the Wadden Sea. Just recently, Solkær released his latest ninth photographic monograph, Starling. To talk about his work, Solkær joined us for an interview.

    Can you share more about your childhood experiences near the Wadden Sea in southern Denmark and how those early encounters with starling murmurations influenced your passion for capturing them through photography?

    In 2017 I was working on a 25 year retrospective portrait book and exhibition at Frederiksborg Castle. 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. At the time it made a deep impression on me. I had never seen nature perform wonders at such a level before.

    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 behaviour. 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 thy migrated south and west and thus expanded the project to six other countries: Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Ireland and England.

    Your new monograph, Starling, is a sequel to the international bestseller Black Sun. How does the narrative or focus of Starling differ from its predecessor, and what inspired you to continue exploring this subject?

    Black Sun was very much a return to the landscape of my childhood. It was also a period of reconnecting to nature after having spent most of my adult life in large cities. I was trying to reconnect with the fascination I felt as a child and to create the images of the phenomenon in the marsh landscape. After Black Sun I soon felt that I was far from exhausting my interest in the starlings.

    Starling examines the murmuration phenomenon from a more scientific and mythological angle. I love working on one subject matter for many years. As more time and energy is invested the project starts giving back and offering new and often times surprising perspectives.

    Since you began tracking starling migration routes in Europe, you have expanded your perspective. What unique aspects have you discovered along the way?

    When I started out on this project I thought the murmurations only played out in marsh type areas. I have learned over the years how incredibly versatile the starlings are. Murmurations take place in mountains, over cities and even over the sea. The starlings can sleep on rocks, in trees and reed beds. They are also able to feed on many different types of food; from grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders and cherries to olives. On full moon nights they sleep two hours less than usual.

    The book includes close-up studies of starling feathers at the cellular level. What prompted you to explore this microscopic perspective, and how does it add to the overall narrative of your work?

    Through the microscope lens, we venture into a domain where atoms assemble into orderly arrays, molecules form intricate structures. It’s a reminder that the same fundamental forces that govern the cosmos also shape the tiniest building blocks of life. In these photographs, we witness the architecture of matter and the choreography of molecules.

    A microscope-photographed feather reveals a world of intricate beauty and complexity, magnified to the point where the tiniest details become striking features. At a microscopic level, the feather’s surface resembles a rugged terrain. Barbs and barbules interlock like miniature mountain ranges, forming a landscape of ridges, valleys and river deltas, mirroring the natural world’s order and balance. The parallels between the vast and the minuscule are unmistakable.

    The tiny yet intricate feather serves as a gentle reminder that our existence is intertwined with the grand tapestry of the universe, inviting us to contemplate the beauty and interconnectedness that bind us to the cosmos.

    Finally, if you had to give one piece of advice to an aspiring artistic photographer, what would it be?

    Find a subject matter that you care more for than anyone else. Something that speaks to you and you would be happy studying and photographing for a long time no matter the outcome. Have patience and perseverance and the universe will start giving you gifts.

    Starling is available to buy here.

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