This summer, I met virtually with the Danish photographer, Søren Solkær. He was sitting outside with a fjord behind him at his weekend cabin featuring a thatched roof and red painted exterior, situated about an hour away from Copenhagen.
Søren fell under the spell of the camera and travel during his youth. He honed his skills at the Film and TV School Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1995. Søren shared it was an exciting time to be in Prague as it was reopening to the West and when everyone wanted to be there. His classes were in English or German. Søren started photography when it was exclusively analog and he happily embraced digital when the cameras got good enough. He runs multiple tests before printing, and he works with forty-two or sixty-two inch wide printers. While printing, he determines the size of the print and if it should be in color or black and white.
Søren is renowned for his large color-saturated portraits of celebrity musicians such as Bjork, The White Stripes, Paul McCartney, David Lynch, Amy Winehouse, Pharrell Williams, Adele, and Patti Smith. After twenty-five years of focusing his attention on portraits, he wanted to expand into fine art photography. Søren’s fondly recalled his parents taking him to see the murmurations when he was a child, and it left a strong impression on him, and forty years later, this memory led him to find his subject matter.
The European starlings work together in defense against predators by creating an illusion of being one massive dense black organism when an attack is imminent. The predator cannot differentiate a single bird within the murmurations and gives up. It is a practical and eloquent solution for the European Starlings.
Søren draws our attention to this phenomenon and its inherent beauty in his photographs. While photographing, he may wear three cameras at a time. This way, he doesn’t miss a shot while having to change lenses. It is no easy feat to capture the murmurations. He patiently waits days a week, ten days, and then gets the shots on the eleventh day. The murmurations draw large gatherings of observers in Denmark, where Søren may be among five hundred people. In other places, such as in the Netherlands - only a couple of people may show up. The murmurations tend to happen close to sunset and when the birds are circling the reed forests. Attacks tend to occur before they go to sleep, and this is when they form their most dramatic shapes. Sometimes, there may be as many as a million birds in a murmuration; there is no leader.
Søren was one of two hundred artists from across the globe asked to design their interpretation of the original version of the Louis Vuitton travel trunk to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Vuitton. He chose to use images from his Black Sun project. He printed the images onto handmade Japanese washi paper from Awagami - the acclaimed multi-generational Japanese handmade specialty paper company. Søren drew his inspiration from travel and freedom across borders. This trunk will be on view throughout all the Louis Vuitton stores.
Let’s get to know more about Soren and his photography.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a Corona portrait project, portraying the greatest Danish visual artists who are all in their studios these days due to travel restrictions.
Who are some of the greatest Danish visual artists you are photographing for your Corona portrait project?
John Kørner and Michael Kvium.
Do you have a favorite work of your own?
I like Black Sun #8, my portrait of Björk and of the street artist Borondo.
About how many photographs do you typically take in a session?
Anything from 100-2000.
How long is the process from the beginning to the final printed image?
It usually takes months.
What is it that makes Japanese papers sought after for printing?
It is handmade from very high quality natural materials.
Does it ever startle the birds that there are sometimes five hundred people watching them?
It doesn’t seem to bother them.
How do you shoot with so many people around?
I go into a meditative state that blocks everything but the birds out.
What kind of meditation do you practice?
Raja yoga meditation since 1997.
What else in nature holds a fascination for you?
Fireflies and butterflies.
What makes a photograph exceptional?
It has got to be unique, hold a high standard of craft and have soul.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers or amateur photographers?
Find a subject you are passionate about. Something that you can spend months or years going into depth with.
Do you have any advice for the sitter in a portrait?
Remember you are a soul.
Who are your favorite photographers?
Philip-Lorca di Corcia and Nadav Kander.
Do you collect?
I buy or exchange art with many artists that I meet.
What is your idea of, perfect day?
Coffee, nature, art, good company and wine.
Do you listen to music when you work?
Always music or audio books. Except when I work in nature – I listen to nature.
Where is your favorite place, that place that you can’t get enough of and, you keep returning to?
My cabin by a Danish fjord.
Where else would you like to go?
Bhutan and Laos.
What do you miss about your home when work takes you away?
My two daughters and my bicycle.
What are your three favorite things about Denmark?
The social equality created by the welfare system, the general freedom of thought and speech, any place has close proximity to the coast.
What should travelers not miss when visiting Denmark?
The seaside, modern Nordic cuisine, Christiania, ride a bicycle.
Whether it is a portrait or the murmurations of European starlings, Søren’s work pays homage to our essence, our soul that connects all living beings together. The ancient Romans believed that gods were sending us messages through the murmurations of the European starlings. Perhaps, we could learn something from these birds about how they work creatively in their defense without harming and how they work together gracefully in a collective without a leader. I’m grateful to learn about these murmurations through Søren Solkær, and I look forward to seeing where his photography and travels take him next.