The childhood memory of a breathtaking starling murmuration has stayed with Søren Solkær his whole life. Here the photographer, best known for his portraits of musicians, tells 5 of his mission to capture the phenomenon on camera, and how the experience brought him back in touch with the natural world.
I never thought I would do any photography in the area where I grew up. I didn’t really consider it a place I could photograph. For me, photography had been part of me getting out of there.
I spent more or less 25 years in big cities, doing only portraits. When I finished my retrospective at the national portrait gallery in Denmark, it was the first time I felt I could give myself the freedom to do something that wasn’t portraits. Immediately this image came to mind of a starling murmuration that I had witnessed in Jutland as a 10-year-old boy. I wanted to go down there, so I set aside one week.
“On the fifth or sixth day, around sunset, the whole flock started creating these beautiful shapes”
For days, nothing happened. Then on the fifth or sixth day around sunset I witnessed this thing I witnessed as a kid, where the starlings were attacked by a bird of prey. The whole flock went crazy and started creating these beautiful shapes in the sky. That night I got one photograph I really liked. Now I’m in my fifth year.
It has ended up being one of the most exciting things that I’ve done, and a return not only to the landscape of my childhood but also to being in nature. As a child I would go fishing almost everyday. The excitement was similar to when I go out and photograph birds. It’s about the unpredictability of not knowing when it’s going to happen, but also the inner space that is created by being in nature. Time seems to disappear and you’re just present. I think that space I knew as a kid, I have found again.
I called the series Black Sun, from the Danish sort sol, which is what we call a murmuration. It refers to there being so many birds that they darken the sky. It’s called very different things in different cultures. The English term refers to the sound they make. In Dutch they call it a dance. In Italian it’s stormo.
“After two years I wanted more. So I started following the birds on their migration paths”
After two years only photographing in Southern Jutland, I wanted more. So I started following the birds on their migration paths south and west to England and Germany and Italy and Spain and the Netherlands. Now I’ve become known as the starling photographer, and people write to me from India, the US, Israel, France, Ireland… Other photographers offer to take me out in the field to show me their local murmurations. I follow hashtags for this phenomenon in many different languages so I can see where the starlings are right now, and I’ll go to wherever it looks most exciting.
This is my only nature photography project, but I know for sure that some of my new projects will also be in nature. It has opened my eyes. It’s a new way of finding some of what I’ve been looking for in portraiture: trying to get in contact with the more universal part of us. I’d be interested in finding that in other phenomena in nature. It’s a new beginning of sorts for me.
Thoughts from our community
In Lisbon you can see this every evening in the summer, near Cais do Sodré! It’s hipnotizing.
Their dance is mesmerizing …
The sound of the beating of millions of wings in unison, as if one being, is phenomenal.
You can see this every evening in Rome. And, while mesmerizing, I can assure you it’s not the cleanest show around, if you know what I mean.
I witnessed such an event once and I am so glad this happened before smartphones because I would have wanted to film it. Instead I took it all in and still have a very vivid memory of it.
In Chalkidiki, in Greece, glouds of these beautiful birds are making wonderful formations in the sky and thousands of voices are singing.
Mezmerizing it is! I have a great memory of my dad going outside his house every day when the birds were there. I even filmed it and you hear him explaining to his granddaughter what they are doing. It’s one of the 2 videos I have with his voice on it. I always think of him when I see it.