Elegant Swarms of Starlings

The Photo Blog
Feb. 21 2014 11:03 AM

Elegant Swarms of Starlings

Murmur no. 1, Nov. 15, 2005
Murmur no. 1, Nov. 15, 2005

Richard Barnes

Photographer Richard Barnes was in Rome in 2005 and 2006 working on finishing his book, Animal Logic. As it turned out, he got more material for the book as well as a new project.

During a day in October, Barnes said he noticed “a dark, undulating smudge” in the sky and couldn’t figure out what it was. A colleague informed him it was the annual winter migration of the European starlings traveling from northern Europe to the Campagna outside Rome. Inspired by the starlings, Barnes began to photograph them and added some of the images to Animal Logic, including the cover image. He also created a series titled “Murmur,” currently on view at Foley Gallery in New York.

Murmur no. 25, Nov. 22, 2006
Murmur no. 25, Nov. 22, 2006

Richard Barnes

Murmur no. 23, Dec. 6, 2006
Murmur no. 23, Dec. 6, 2006

Richard Barnes

When Barnes began the project almost a decade ago, he was using a Hasselblad camera; all 26 images in “Murmur” were shot with the Hasselblad and with a 100mm lens at 1/500 of a second. Although he admits the series would have been much easier to shoot with a digital camera, he said film was a better choice. “There was something about the way the grain of the film equated to the massive flocks of starlings in the sky that I really responded to when I started to process the negatives,” Barnes recalled.

Advertisement

Barnes photographed the starlings in Rome’s Esposizione Universale Roma, or EUR, neighborhood that Benito Mussolini built for the 1942 world’s fair; the fair never happened due to World War II. Barnes said the EUR’s wide boulevards and tree-lined streets was a great neighborhood for photographing the birds. He added that it took around 40 minutes from the time the first birds arrived until they had settled into the trees for the night and that their flocking is unlike anything he had ever seen. “They swirl and weave and look strikingly like computer animation in the sky, creating pointillist abstractions one moment, only to disperse and then coalesce into what looks like a ball or a question mark the next,” he said.

Murmur no. 20, November 3, 2006
Murmur no. 20, Nov. 3, 2006

Richard Barnes

Murmur no. 9 December 17 2005
Murmur no. 9, Dec. 17, 2005

Richard Barnes

Barnes said that their “choreography” is also fascinating because the dense flocks of birds never hit one another, something that is perplexing to ornithologists.

Although Barnes learned the starlings had been migrating to Rome for decades, he also discovered that the storni who were helping him create beautiful images were also an annoyance from October to February. “The Romans despise the storni, as they shit all over everything in the areas they choose to roost for the night,” he said.

“Murmur” is currently on view at Foley Gallery in New York through March 2 as part of the “Murmur & Refuge” show.

Murmur no. 8, December 14, 2005
Murmur no. 8, Dec. 14, 2005

Richard Barnes

Murmur no. 22, December 1 2006
Murmur no. 22, Dec. 1, 2006

Richard Barnes

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?