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.
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 realized 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.