Photographer Creates Mesmerizing Flight Trails of Winged Creatures as a Meditation on Time

Doris Mitsch "Locked Down, Looking Up"

“Lockdown Vultures (Moab Mesa),” 2021

California-based photographer Doris Mitsch captures otherworldly images that question the notions of time, space, and our own linear reality. In her recent series titled Locked Down Looking Up, the artist turned to the sky for inspiration and found it in the flight patterns of traveling flocks of birds. Her composite photos combine images of those intricate flight trails and showcase the elaborately choreographed dance of interwoven paths that exist right above our heads.

“The series began as a project about finding beauty in the constraints of the pandemic lockdown,” Mitsch tells My Modern Met, “while we on the ground were locked down, up in the air, there was still a lot going on. But it was in the works for a long time before that.”

From her home in the San Francisco Bay Area and looking out at a tree-covered ridge across a small canyon, Mitsch has spent years experimenting with time-lapse videos and composite photos. One of her first photography classes in college involved her learning alternative methods of capturing images. She loved “seeing how photographers can mess with space and time” using lensless methods like cyanotypes, long exposures with pinholes, multiple exposures, and more.

Over the years, Mitsch’s subjects have ranged from the changing seasons and weather patterns to the paths of the Moon and stars, the movement of airplanes, and the actions of various animals. However, 2020’s lockdown caused the artist to shift her attention and refocus on how creatures inhabit the particular landscape surrounding her home.

“That’s one way my work is different from some other motion study photographs, and it’s another way the series continues to evolve now that I can move around more and capture sequences in different places,” she shares. “The vultures riding thermals in the Moab desert, the bats hunting mosquitos over my garden, and the seagulls that wheel above the shore aren’t just drawing abstract sketches onto the air, they are also in a dance with the land.”

Mitsch’s images capture the mesmerizing trails of various airborne creatures—birds, bats, and even insects—as they swirl and flit far above the Earth. Their flight patterns, when combined in these composite photos, create abstract forms and linear shapes so compelling that they seem as if they were carefully composed by the winged creatures themselves.

Mitsch’s exposures vary in the time they take to capture and the number of birds or other creatures in any given image. For example, one composite photo titled Lockdown Vulture (Signature) shows the path of just one vulture as it makes circles in the air. It was captured over the course of a minute. The total number of images she combines can also vary, ranging anywhere from 500 to 5,000.

“I love finding ways to photograph familiar things to reveal qualities we can’t see any other way, compressing distance or time to make an image that might take a minute or two to understand,” Mitsch says. “Physicists now say that there’s no such thing as linear time, at least not outside of human perception. Try as I might, I can’t get my head around that, but it’s interesting to think about…when I’m trying to make pictures of time in space, or space in time. If linear time really is an illusion, then maybe these photos are what flight actually looks like.”

Scroll down to see more of Mitsch’s incredible composite photos from her series Locked Down Looking Up. Her work is also on view through September 12, 2022, at the Lafayette City Center in Boston as part of the Griffin Museum of Photography’s exhibition, Vantage Point: The View From Here.

Photographer Doris Mitsch captures the mesmerizing flight trails of birds and other creatures in her series Locked Down Looking Up.

Doris Mitsch "Locked Down, Looking Up"

“Lockdown Vultures (Moab Slope),” 2021

Doris Mitsch "Locked Down, Looking Up"

“Lockdown Gulls (Sea Ranch),” 2021

The series is made up of composite photos that combine anywhere from 500 to 5,000 images.

Composite Bird Photos

“Lockdown Vulture (Signature),” 2021

Doris Mitsch "Locked Down, Looking Up"

“Lockdown Hawk (Marin Headlands),” 2022

She started the series during the pandemic lockdown in 2020 when everyone was forced to stay home.

Composite Bird Photos

“Lockdown Crows (Evening Commute),” 2020

Composite Bird Photos

“Lockdown Bats (Pas de Deux),” 2020

“While we on the ground were locked down, up in the air, there was still a lot going on,” Mitsch tells My Modern Met.

Doris Mitsch "Locked Down, Looking Up"

“Lockdown Crow (Wildfire Smoke),” 2020

Doris Mitsch "Locked Down, Looking Up"

“Lockdown Crows (One Tree),” 2020

Locked Down Looking Up features photos of everything from birds to insects to bats.

Doris Mitsch "Locked Down, Looking Up"

“Lockdown Swallows 3,” 2020

Composite Bird Photos

“Lockdown Dragonflies,” 2020

Doris Mitsch: Website | Instagram | Facebook

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Doris Mitsch.

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Arnesia Young

Arnesia Young is a contributing writer for My Modern Met and an aspiring art historian. She holds a BA in Art History and Curatorial Studies with a minor in Design from Brigham Young University. With a love and passion for the arts, culture, and all things creative, she finds herself intrigued by the creative process and is constantly seeking new ways to explore and understand it.
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