Xavi Bou is a bird photographer who does not photograph birds. He photographs the flight. His breathtaking works of art challenge us to think beyond the sheer beauty of bird movements. Unlike other forms of motion analysis that take a purely scientific approach, Ornithographies combines science with art and moves away from early chronophotography techniques used by photographers such as Etienne-Jules Marey or Eadweard Muybridge. Ornithographies is a nature discovery project and at the same time an exercise in visual poetry to find a balance between information and inspiration.
First of all, why birds?
My grandfather shared his passion for the outdoors with me when I was a little boy. He took me on his daily bird watching walks in the Delta del Llobregat and taught me birds and wildlife.
About eight years ago I saw a paw print while hiking in a forest in Catalonia and asked myself, “What tracks would birds leave if they fly?” I started imagining lines and shapes as they floated through the sky and thought, “ How can I make the invisible visible? “
How did ornithographies start?
I filmed a couple of seagulls soaring around the boat on an SEO / BirdLife bird watching trip along the Catalan coast. While editing the video, I noticed the wave patterns they were making with their wings and I was intrigued. We could say this was my “Eureka Moment”: after a decade of trying to find an inspiring personal project that was firmly tied to something I was passionate about, I found it. And ornithographs were born.
I didn’t want to take conventional animal photos. In addition to my academic career, I have an advertising and artistic background, so I like to experiment with the process and wanted to offer something innovative. I believe that we have to be inventive in the artistic field and not have to be anchored in the past or in established art forms.
The preparation of the project included more than five years of trial, error and engineering study. I discovered that I had to shoot the birds with high resolution cinema cameras and stitch thousands of photos together into one image to get the effect I wanted. Although my technique is digital, it is similar to analog photography in that I can only see the end result at the end of the process. After understanding the methodology, I focused on birds and their different flight patterns.
How did you feel in the beginning when everything was new?
In the first few years I was in a constant state of discovery and fascination – and I still am, as birds constantly surprise me. I remember going to Aiguamolls de l’Emporda – a popular birding excursion destination in northeastern Spain – and seeing a group of storks on a very hot summer day. One of the biggest challenges with my technique is that when framing the camera, I see practically nothing because I prefer to shoot from a distance to get all of the movement. So I set up my cameras and started recording the flight of the storks.
To my surprise, when I merged the images, I found that the storks were flying in thermal currents, forming perfect, beautiful shapes that looked like ribbons flying in the wind. I also realized that the movements I want to create for my artwork are also a clue for those who want to better identify bird species.
Do you have a favorite style to work with?
The species I like the most right now are Swifts, which are my favorite birds (when they migrate I feel the city is emptying) and starlings. People think they are common and don’t pay much attention to them, but I would encourage everyone to analyze their escape and behavior. These birds have complex flight styles and move in flocks, which allows for various social interactions such as protection from predators, feeding, socializing, etc. All of this allows me to get very interesting results and add a sense of challenge to my work.
My project is not an investigation of movement as an analysis of bird morphology. I want the viewer to give up rationality and, when the shape of the bird disappears, perceive life. This is the most innovative part of my project: I show movement through photography and change the perception of time through birds.
Usually wildlife photographers try to show the animal, not make it disappear …
Personally, it is very important that the shape of the bird has disappeared in my pictures. The audience is then faced with a mysterious, organic figure. It’s strange for us these days to stand in front of an unfamiliar shape and the beauty of this project is that it allows a viewer’s imagination to fly! Depending on each person’s visual and personal background, the picture will look like one or the other. For example in this picture [see Ornithography #41, top of page]People asked me if it was a digital painting or a picture of bacteria through a microscope!
I have been contacted by choreographers, mathematicians, and architects who specialize in biomimicry – a science that studies the models, designs, and processes of nature and then mimics or takes inspiration from them to solve human problems – because they The pictures were inspired and interested by the movement or the forms of.
Have you had any experience with bird migration?
For me, the migration of birds is the ultimate flight. A living being that, in order to improve its living conditions and to follow its instinct, decides to fly unthinkable distances through different continents exposed to all kinds of threats, deserves all our admiration. My dream is to travel to different places of migratory importance to photograph the magic of bird migration and to help protect birds.
I was once in Tarifa in southern Spain to photograph birds migrating to Africa. It was very windy and Africa could not be seen because of the mist over the sea. I was amazed to watch birds stop their migration and wait patiently for the strong winds to pass. I went to a field where I saw hundreds of black kites waiting for the right weather conditions. They got up early in the morning and flew upwind to check the weather forecast. If you see any unusual shapes in this picture [see Ornithography #112, above]The up and down movements are due to the fact that they “hung up” in the air and, in good conditions, turned around in a loop and started their migration journey.
How can people be more inspired by nature?
I want to encourage people to appreciate common birds and take a break from time to time and look at the sky. Nature has the ability to surprise and surprise us and bring us back to a curious, innocent way of thinking. Birds connect people to nature, and by observing them without expectation, just for the joy of it, we can enter a state of mindfulness.
When photographers have a project, they usually devote some time to it and then jump to the next. I am very proud to give this one continuity as my “life project”. Personally, I’ve found my own style thanks to birds and nature – I want to work on it and I still feel like they will give me a lot more to explore!
Recently, Xavi Bou has expanded his work to video, creating marbles in which we can watch starlings banding together by the thousands, performing a fascinating dance to confuse the hawks attacking them and painting the sky with their movements. While Bou’s art goes hand in hand with science, his paintings no longer show reality as we know it. Instead, they allow us to experience moments that represent the past, present and future at the same time – that is a powerful thought to bear in mind at this crucial turning point in the history of our planet.
Find out more at: www.xavibou.com