Andy Sewell on the meaning of nests
Words Vilma Paasivaara
Photographs Andy Sewell
Hole & Corner contributor Andy Sewell on his birdwatching days, how his story for Issue 16 reunited him with old friends, his work photographing the nature – and how it all seems connected to the nest…
Andy Sewell often records that invisible border between the natural and the human – even though he baulks slightly at that distinction. For the Nest Issue of Hole & Corner, he photographed Andy and Peter Holden, the father-and-son team who have been combining ornithology and art in a unique study of birds’ habitats and behaviour.
As it turned out, this was not the first time that Sewell had met the Holdens. When both Andys were young, their families went on vacation in the same campsite in France and became friends. Peter Holden also ran birdwatching walks for children at the campsite – which Sewell attended. ‘Like a lot of photographers, I was really into bird watching [as a child],’ Sewell explains. ‘I guess in some ways it makes sense. There is this desire to look closely at what makes up the world in front of you and also catalogue that.’ Sewell learned a lot from Peter’s walks, but notes that his birdwatching days are behind him – although he adds he still likes watching birds and ‘trying to guess which ones they are’.
Though Sewell didn’t keep in touch with the other Andy per se, he would see the Holden’s work pop up every once in a while. When he was commissioned to shoot the images for Hole & Corner, it was the first time they had actually met in almost 30 years. ‘It was a set of coincidences that was really kind of wonderful,’ Sewell says.
It might be too much to trace the roots of their respective work back to those childhood birdwatching walks, but Sewell notes the similarities between his own recent work and Andy Holden’s art. ‘The forms our work take are quite different,’ he says, ‘but there is definitely this interesting crossover. I think, underlying both our practices, there’s some similar sort of thing which we’re interested in.’ Namely an interest in those hard-to-define lines between culture and nature, wild and human.
Exploring relationship with the countryside was at the core of Sewell’s latest book, Something Like a Nest. ‘Once you start looking at what’s natural – or behind the idea of nature, that term sort of dissolves the more you probe at it,’ he says. The book takes an inside look at the British countryside today – not some fanciful idealistic notion of how we like to imagine it exists, but rather how it is in reality. It was this disconnect between nostalgic images and the less curated reality that he wanted to investigate.
‘All the pictures were taken in a place which you would call the countryside,’ he explains. ‘I was thinking; “What does the countryside mean to us? What are we looking for when we go there?”’ The result of his exploration of this space, done through the lens of a large format camera (‘Ironically, I looked like a nostalgic idea of a photographer’), is a book that examines the life outside of cities without any pretence – without cropping anything out. Sewell says that as a photographer it was interesting to realise how much effort we put into imposing our own idea of the countryside on the reality. ‘Actually, mostly we just edit our views in order for it to look how we want it to look.’
As for the title Something Like a Nest, Sewell explains that he felt like there is often a desire to escape to the countryside – to the safety represented by a nest. ‘But the countryside isn’t an escape,’ he adds. ‘The countryside is no less connected with everything else, or less implicated in this complicated mesh of an interconnected reality. In the countryside, it is interesting to see how these things bleed into each other.’
Andy Sewell’s book Something Like a Nest is available here.