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.