Photographer Dillon Marsh is fascinated by the juxtaposition of man and nature in his native South Africa. After documenting the fake fronds of disguised cell-phone towers for his first landscape series Invasive Species, Marsh turned to his attention way back to a family trip he took as a child, when he first viewed the amazing nests of the Social Weaver bird.
These massive, amorphous avian homes can support hundreds of birds at a time in their complex interior chambers and clusters, and, boy, are they impressive from the outside as well. The effect is somewhat otherworldly and—maybe this is just me?—kinda creepy, as the formations look like they are, or could be, super strange and sentient creatures living off our power grid. Upon closer observation, Marsh found their logistics as interesting as the results. "I noticed the nests seem to be in a constant state of collapse and repair. Once they get to a certain size their excessive weight causes large chunks to fall off," he explains. "The birds, however, simply start adding onto the nests once again."
If Jurassic Park taught us anything, it’s that life finds a way—sometimes, it seems, with a little help from its friends. In an interesting development, humans have started to help preserve the houses. "I also noticed that people actively assisted the birds by attaching simple wire frames to the top of some of the poles, allowing for more purchase." How they did this is unclear, but the implication that folks not only accept but support these as part of their shared turf is fascinating.
In terms of his own creative process, Marsh wasn’t afraid to take a few chances to achieve Assimilation’s striking results. For three days, he explored the open area of Upington, in the country’s Northern Cape province, alone by car. "Word of mouth was my only real available indication of where the most nests could be found," he says. The weather was in his favor, so setting up each of the shots wasn’t a problem; for the most part, the birds themselves were holed up inside or out foraging, so only a few made it into the final frames.
Then there was the factor of how he snapped. "I used a 4x5 view camera to take the photographs and because of the high costs of the film and developing, I took just one photo of each nest." Sounds risky, right? But wait—there’s more. "Considering that this was the first time I had used such a camera, I was very happy to get the results that I did."
After the adventure, Marsh took to his studio. "For me, treating an image in Photoshop is an important step in the process of finishing it," he says. "I handle each series slightly differently depending on what sort of impression I get from the area and what I want to portray." Clicking through his portfolio reveals moody black-and-whites of shipwrecks along the Cape of Good Hope, sepia-toned trees blown by the strong South Easter wind, and the rich clarity of illuminated crucifixes at dusk outside the small town of Worcester. Assimilation’s selects are slightly washed out but vibrant nonetheless. "The Kalahari struck me as a stark, bleached, and barren environment, and I aimed to enhanced these characteristics while being careful to retain the delicate details."
Ultimately, for Marsh, he hopes that his own keen eye can expose a new way of looking at our own surroundings—Kalahari or otherwise. "My overall aim is to present a slightly new way of perceiving how we as humans interact with our environment. Through subtle themes, I hope to show a little of the curiosity and wonder that I have for my country and its people."
(h/t It’s Nice That)