During the lockdown, in a flat on the Costa Brava, Xavi Bou became even more obsessed with birds. The Spanish photographer had already made a name for himself with his extraordinary photos, stringing together hundreds of bird snaps into collages of movement.
His mesmerizing images capture approximately 20 seconds, superimposed to show the quirky flight paths of playful robins, dancing starlings and stiff-winged petrels.
“All my life I’ve been interested in nature, especially birds, but it wasn’t at that level of madness,” he tells Euronews Green.
Limited to a balcony in March 2020, which coincided with bird migration, he counted 50 species. He started drawing them with his kids and taught their callings — an exercise he recommends for anyone who wants to “feel you have superpowers.”
Bou wasn’t the only one who paid more attention to the natural world. “It was magical that many people became interested in birds and nature during the lockdown and have followed this passion ever since,” he says. “It was a great moment for conservationists.”
Those who discovered Bou’s “Ornithographies” during the pandemic undoubtedly felt something of the same vicarious freedom.
“One of the most beautiful things is the different people who have contacted me because they were inspired by my work,” he says. They include dance choreographers, orchestral composers, bridge architects, sculptors, tattooists, biologists, physicists and scientists – especially those involved in biomimicrythat applies nature’s solutions to technology.
This diverse fan base talks about the way ‘Ornithographies’ hovers between art and documentary. Bou, 43, is clear that the decade-long project will be on the first side; “For me, the difference with art is that the story is open.” His exhibits provide little technical or geographical information, leaving viewers free to travel in any direction.
Bou’s favorite photo shows the flight paths of starlings through a tree. It feels poetic and ecological in the way it makes connections between birds and branches. “Usually you see birds in a tree, but in a specific way, and then suddenly looking this way it’s like it’s connected, it’s the same, like the leaves of the tree.”
The first picture was unplanned, and it sent him looking for similar scenes. However, it is not easy – a lot has to be done to capture such a starling dance. The iridescent birds only congregate in winter, around October and February in the Mediterranean. After feeding in smaller groups of fields during the day, they look for a safe area to spend the night – such as wetlands or cities like Rome.
Bou’s photos capture the moment the “murmurs” come together, he explains, as he joins the trees about an hour before sunset. In fact, some of his series rely on the appearance of a hawk at this point – sending the flock into an intricate dance to confuse the hunter.
“One of the beauties of working with nature is that your agenda is linked to the natural agenda,” says Bou. So he is well attuned to the disruptions that are unfolding today.
A tragic example is the experience of swifts in Spain. The birds arrive in April and give birth to chicks from June to July, which nest in the nooks and crannies of houses. But the recent heat wave made the temperature in the nests unbearable, causing some chicks to jump to their deaths early.
The photographer fears that swifts – one of his favorites birds to photograph because they spend so much time in the air – could disappear altogether from southern Europe as temperatures rise.
It’s a similar picture elsewhere – in the “magic” Lake Gallocanta, where hundreds of thousands of cranes usually hibernate, cutting a V-shape through the cold air. And in Villafáfila, where fewer and fewer geese from the Netherlands find their way.
From the very beginning, Bou’s experience of nature was wrapped with the impact of humans. He grew up in Prat de Llobregat, an industrial city that spans Barcelona airport and the Delta de Llobregat, one of the most important cities in Catalonia. wetland areas.
Walking around it with his grandfather, young Xavi would encounter many species of birds, but also blatant pollution – rivers stained blue or red, depending on the ink color the industry was using that day.
Much has improved since the 1980s, but the airportThe expansion of the group has put more pressure on the birds – a mixed progress that Bou is seeing across Europe. “One of the worst things for wildlife is habitat loss,” he says.
The idea for ‘Ornithographies’ came about during a walk in 2012. Observing footprints in the ground, he wondered ‘what kind of tracks do birds leave in the sky?’, imagining the invisible trails almost like an airplane.
Despite the overwhelming success of the project – which took him from Spain to Iceland, Yellowstone National Park in the United States to the Outer Hebrides – Bou still makes sure to spend time in nature without his camera. “The mindset is different because one has to be mindful and enjoy all the senses, and the other is more focused.”
There is a restlessness in his explorations, a refusal to find any of nature’s realms beyond its borders. Currently on vacation, he is excited about taking photos Underwater. And he embarks on a new project to capture the insect world, which is a “mass” become extinct before our eyes.”
birds are, however, an endless source of fascination and ‘Ornithographies’ will certainly be a lifelong project. The 43-year-old recently discovered the role of the ‘augur’ in Greek and Roman culture – a person who reads the movement of birds and other “omens” to know the future. “When I read that, I was stunned,” he says, “because, wow, they would definitely love my job.”
In Italian and Euskara (the Basque language), birthday and Christmas greetings have their root in ‘auguria’; people essentially wish each other “good birds.” “The people of the past were more related to nature than we certainly are,” says Bou.
Whether his photos are read as accounts of loss, beauty or just genius camera work, his goal is simple: “I want to encourage people to stop and look at the sky.”