In conversations with Silk Laundry’s Art Prize winners

Nature’s Laboratory delves into the importance of biodiversity and those who care for the planet. Simultaneously, it celebrates creating memories, living adventurously and facing fears.

This year’s Silk Laundry Art Prize had a focus on arthropods. Despite their small size, this species is essential to the human food supply chain and is also essential for maintaining ecosystem sustainability and pollinating crops. So, this year’s competition challenged our community to portray the delicate nature and charming characteristics of the little critters.  

In conversation with Patrick Nelson, the 2023 Silk Laundry Art Prize winner

In July 2023 we asked for innovative submissions that showcased the diversity of insects in a way that would captivate the Silk Laundry community and a panel including Creative Director Katie Kolodinski, Fashion Photographer Ezra Patchett and Art Director Esther Martinez. While each entry held its own unique perspective, Patrick Nelson’s imagery of a Vine Hawk Moth caterpillar resonated with the judges.  With intentions of standing out, Patrick hoped the vulnerability and charisma of his up-close caterpillar image “would tug the judges’ heartstrings.”

Winning Photo: Vine Hawk Moth Caterpillar captured by Patrick Nelson, Alice Springs.

Photography has played a longstanding and avid role in Patrick’s life. Sourcing inspirations from his surroundings and the wide-open desert spaces of interior Australia, he has experimented with landscape photography shooting star trails and the moon. 

“I was a teenager growing up in central Australia where spectacular scenery and rugged beauty are part of everyday life,” he shared.

Based in Alice Springs, Patrick enjoys travelling far and wide in search of invertebrate fossils.

“Among the remote hills and dry creeks of the Red Centre, I’ll often find insects or other arthropods. You might think that nothing lives in the dusty outback, but in fact, there is an abundance of life and extraordinary variety if one takes the time to look. Some creatures almost beg you to take their photo, and often I will oblige.”

No stranger to capturing arthropods like butterflies, ants, bees, grasshoppers, beetles, dragonflies, spiders, scorpions, shield shrimps, arthropod fossils and more – it was a clear decision to enter Silk Laundry’s art prize competition. For Patrick, inspiration struck on a busy Friday morning in March. Amid preparations to sell his Alice Springs home, he began gardening in his backyard. 

“There it was, a very cute vine hawkmoth caterpillar peering up at me from the lawn. I gently picked it up and placed it on the lid of a wheelie bin, where I took its portrait with my mobile phone before returning it to the lawn. 

“I think it had probably been living in the grapevine, but had reached the stage in its life cycle where it was about to pupate. This would explain why it had ventured onto the lawn. It was probably planning to bury itself under the lawn until conditions were right for it to re-emerge as a fully-fledged moth.” 

Speaking of the artisanal aspects and distinctiveness of his image, Patrick emphasises the facial expression of the caterpillar and the image’s composition.  

“One cool thing about the vine hawkmoth caterpillar is its big fake eyes. What we see is a surface pattern that resembles two big eyes. It is thought that this forms part of its defence mechanism. When it senses danger, it shows off its ‘big eyes’ to inflate its size and presumably frighten off any would-be predator.

In terms of the composition, you will see how the body of the creature curves around to the right-of-frame. The focus diminishes at the same time, which brings back the viewer’s eye to the focal point – the big beautiful peek-a-boo eyes. There is also an element of Fibonacci about the image, which is often associated with beauty in design and nature. Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

Learn more about the Silk Laundry Art Prize here.