Photographer Søren Solkær's Mesmerises Audiences with His "BLACK SUN" Series

THE BEGINNINGS

I grew up in a small village in the south of Denmark. That was a great place to live until I became a teenager. As Lou Reed put it on Songs for Drella, the album he did for Andy Warhol: "There is only one good thing about a small town. You know that you want to get out". I recorded mix tapes of music from German radio stations and listened to Radio Luxembourg from underneath my blankets at night.

Søren Solkær

When I graduated from high school I urgently wanted to go travelling. I saved up some money working in the local slaughterhouse and jumped on an Aeroflot plane to Bangkok with my best friend. I was supposed to go home after four months in Southeast Asia, but I was very far from done with travelling. I had just spent my last money on my first SLR camera and literally had to survive on bananas and peanuts for a while. I got my brother to wire me some money and used it to get to Australia. I was 20 and ready to meet the world with a camera around my neck.

The camera opened a whole new world for me. It enabled me to overcome some of my shyness and gave me the courage to walk up to complete strangers if I found them interesting for doing a portrait as well as asking for access to places I would have otherwise never seen. I would get up very early in the morning and walk around to get photographs in the golden morning light – all because of owning a camera. My life passion was born. As a side-note, a couple of years later when I was attacked by two vicious dogs in front of H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama’s grand palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the camera got smashed – unfortunately so did the dog.

After travelling for another year I returned to Denmark. In 1992 I enrolled in University and started studying Nordic Literature. As much as I love literature, I found myself trying to write all my papers on painting and film. In my free time I started taking portraits of my friends, my sister – well pretty much anyone who’d pose for me. I joined a communal dark room where I spent most of my time experimenting.

Shortly after completing my course, I went travelling again. This time, I embarked on a nine-month journey to Taiwan, The Philippines, Thailand, Nepal and Tibet. On this occasion, I saw myself as a photo reporter – taking photographs of people, processions and religious ceremonies.

FROM PASSION TO PROFESSION

When I returned in the spring I decided to apply for postgraduate studies at FAMU, the Photo- and Film Academy in Prague. I completed an application – pulling together a portfolio of what I believed were great portraits and documentary pictures – and sent them to the Czech Republic.

I waited all summer for a letter in the mail. But nothing happened. I finally decided to call the dean of the faculty. He told me that they had not seen my portfolio. He had however received a letter from the post office saying that a package had arrived from Denmark, and they would have to pay to have the package released – something they wouldn’t or couldn’t do. I was devastated. I’d been dreaming all summer of a bohemian lifestyle in a big old room in Prague with shutters and a dark room in one corner.

The camera opened a whole new world for me. It enabled me to overcome some of my shyness.

I asked the dean if he was willing to look at my pictures if I came to Prague the next day. I borrowed my friends old VW Polo and drove all night to the post office in Prague. With my broken German, my passport and a few USD I managed to arrive in person and collected my portfolio from the post office, before going straight to see the dean of FAMU. He was very surprised to see me. He had a quick look at my portfolio and then accepted me for the B.A. program – not because of my pictures but rather because of my determination.

I relocated to Prague a couple of weeks later and spent two amazing years living there. In 1995 I moved to Copenhagen and opened a studio, and started my career as a photographer. Since then I have been travelling the world doing art projects, exhibitions and commissions by music labels and ad agencies.

RETURN TO MY CHILDHOOD

In the art project BLACK SUN I return to the landscape of my childhood and youth in Southern Denmark. After having toured the big metropolises of the world for 25 years, photographing and exhibiting my work, I have been struck with a longing for wide open landscapes and the big unlimited sky that I know from my childhood. 

When as many as one million starlings gather in the marshlands of Southern Denmark every spring and fall, to eat prior to their migration, one of nature’s most spectacular phenomenons take place. When, at night time, hundreds of thousands of birds gather in large flocks to collectively go to rest in the reed forests, they give an incredible performance showing great collaboration and performance skills. When the flock of birds is attacked by predator birds they perform an incredible ballet about life and death. The birds move as one unified organism that attacks the outside threat.

I work meditatively, with the sharpening of the senses that comes with it. At dawn and at dusk I wait for the birds; and every single time it is magic when they appear in large flocks in the sky like ink drawings or a piece of calligraphy taking over the sky. The formations appearing in this dance reminds me of oriental wood cut prints. 

My images can be divided into two categories: 

Those that describe the inherent order and patterns in the collective movement of the birds: The flock constantly changes its shape - almost like a phase transition of a substance: From solid to fluid, from matter to ethereal, from reality to dream - where the real time ceases to exist and mythical time pervades. It is the slice of eternity I am attempting to cut out. 

The moving birds create shapes of images, often recognisable to human beings. When two flocks of starlings meet - or when birds are attacked from the outside, waves form black lines in the flock, resembling waves of interference. 

Those that depict the relation between the birds and the surrounding nature: 

Since I photograph in low light conditions, the landscape most often appears as a silhouette. In order to place the images in a geographical context I include modern additions to the landscapes such as electric power lines and windmills. Creatively I work with long exposures and multiple exposures, where the starlings become painterly, like pointillist brush strokes or the splash paintings of the American expressionist era. My intention is to capture movement and pattern and the flock that, despite counting hundreds of thousands of individuals, appears as a unified entity. Compositionally I am inspired by oriental images and wood cuts. 

I have photographed the phenomenon in Northern Spain, Rome, The Netherlands, Germany, England and Denmark during the past 4 years. A book will be published in October 2020.

The prints are made on handmade Japanese washi paper from the Awagami paper mill in Tokushima. The organic quality of the paper bears witness to the close contact to nature, which will add an extra dimension to this particular project. The tradition and refinement of the paper production and printing methods manes for contemplation and presence. The handmade process will thus enhance the tactile and sensory experience. 

BLACK SUN will be exhibited across the world after the book is released later this year. Find the latest information on Søren's Facebook page.

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