Flight is one of those evolutionary wonders that’s hard to fully appreciate with two squishy eyeballs and a linear sense of time. But we’re no longer limited to what nature gave us, thanks to the wonders of photo editing. As Barcelona-based photographer Xavi Bou shows, a few simple tricks can reveal the dizzying artistry of a bird rustling its wings.
All images: Xavi Bou
When Bou began his “Ornithographies” project five years back, he was curious about the flight paths birds would make if our perception of time was different. “When I found the way, I realised that I was doing something similar that what was done 150 years ago,” he told Gizmodo. “It was chronophotography.”
A predecessor to motion pictures, chronophotography was developed in the Victorian era for the scientific study of movement. The idea was to capture many different frames of motion — a horse cantering across a field, for instance — which could be layered into an animation frame or single image. Eventually, chronophotography spawned the first cinematic devices; things like the Kinetoscope that allowed people to watch short, continuous looping animations. (Our love affair with GIFs goes way, way back.)
While chronophotography sounds a bit archaic, stitching many frames together into a single image can still yield astounding results. Each of the images in Bou’s Ornithographies series is a collage; hundreds of frames captured in just a few seconds of flight. Evoking everything from ribboned linguini noodles to twisted roller coasters, the flight pattern of birds underscore just how much the perception of time structures our reality — and what a crazy, kaleidoscopic mess we’d be living in if time ceased to exist.