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

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.