Sam Laughlin – Nests
24 September 2017 . By Tristan Hooper
Each year, the migratory Reed Warbler leaves Africa, travelling for the wetlands of Europe. A great many end their journey in the United Kingdom, finding sanctuary not amongst lofty tree canopies, but hidden deep within the reed beds that surround our rivers, lakes, and ponds.
The male warblers construct intricate nests amongst the tall reeds to cradle the eggs of their young. Tucked away from sight, it’s perfectly feasible that one could go a lifetime without seeing or stumbling upon one of these nests – such is nature’s design.
Photographer, Sam Laughlin became inspired to make the work after reading the book, Cuckoo by Cambridge Professor, Nick Davies – Warblers and Cuckoos have a unique relationship in that the latter species is known to hoodwink Warblers into caring for their young by sneaking eggs into their nests. Laughlin travelled to the Fenlands, near Cambridgeshire, and together with Davies sought out the nests of this elusive species. The resulting photographs opt not for drama or spectacle, but instead provide a glimpse of something quietly remarkable.
Each image is like a portrait; the character of each nest informed directly by the natural instincts of its maker – undoubtedly the product of fastidious construction, yet primal and organic. Contemplating the photographs, there is a sense of quiet privilege. These nests have been sought out, discovered hidden amongst dense foliage – the pictures provide a window into a sanctum – the nests like fabricated wombs enclosed within a protective shroud. The cocoon-like assemblages are grafted between reeds growing out of water, stitched into their habitat. Some of the nests almost resemble hearts, the woven materials like veins and muscle.
There is something distinctly precarious about the idea of birth and infancy, suspended above water amongst swaying reeds. In these pictures, life literally clings to life yet, equally, there is a sense of calm in the compositions, of hushed resilience and ingenuity. Laughlin’s neutral gaze, monochrome, uniformed in distance and framing, depicts the nests in situ – there is something pleasingly restrained in the perspectives offered, there is no sense that this special space is being invaded, instead the viewpoint offered is respectful, considerate of the subject being depicted. The ordered clarity of the compositions likely belies the challenges involved in seeking these nests out deep within waterlogged reed beds. We, the viewers, however, are granted the time to contemplate and scrutinise the constructions – comparing their nuances and pondering the work that goes into making them. Whilst these nests are constructed from inanimate matter; likely dead twigs and other debris, they seem like a perfect symbol for life. These nests nurture life in terms of the eggs and chicks they shelter, and they are directly representative of their makers – manifestations of their individual personalities and natural tendencies.
The photographs depict something that is fragile, but at the same time robust enough to withstand the elements and protect the beginnings of new life. In one sense, the photographs seem to speak of the struggles and feats that occur frequently within nature and to which we, as people, are mostly oblivious.
Please visit Sam Laughlin’s website for more images: www.samlaughlin.co.uk