Freya Najade

The Silent Passing of Things

The marshes in East London took me by surprise. When reaching their shores, the noise and hustle of one of London's 'trendiest' neighbourhoods ended abruptly, giving way to swathes of green: sprawling, sea-like fields nestled amid the concrete landscapes of the capital. Sudden feelings of peace and freedom engulfed me, something that only happens when I am by the coast, but never when walking through London’s well-groomed parks.

The River Lea borders the vastness of Hackney Marshes, outlining their green expanse. From here, it snakes through neighbouring Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes, an undulating thread linking the three almost dutifully together. Falcons, parakeets, kingfishers and other wildlife inhabit these enclaves of greenery. And so too do humans — their presence marked by rubbish peppering the fields, floating down the Lea; a river so polluted, signs warn people from swimming in it.

Perhaps it was this juxtaposition that compelled me: despite the neglect and damage, on the marshes nature’s beauty always seems to shine through. Or maybe it was their sheer size and the sense of freedom this engendered, which kept me hooked. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop photographing them. I combed the marshes in all seasons and all weathers, finding unexpected beauty and having surprising encounters with strangers — especially with the youth, who, in the wake of the pandemic, flooded the park, seeking refuge in its greenery too.

These photographs are an ode to this little part of the world and my favourite part of the city: the East London marshes, a jewel amid a metropolis. I follow the River Lea up and down, crisscrossing the marshes. And all the while, I study the beginning, ending and renewal of things — the constant cycle of life.