Robin Friend (b.1983) is a London-based photographer who grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He divides his time between his fine art practice and commissioned work. Recent projects include the award-winning books Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and their Studios and Art Studio America (Thames & Hudson, 2011-13); a collaborative choreographic work for the BBC, Winged Bull in the Elephant Case (2017, with Wayne McGregor); and a National Gallery exhibition project, documenting the gallery’s wartime art storage in a Snowdonian mine (2018). Friend’s work has been exhibited at Aperture Gallery, New York; Christies, Paris and at the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Somerset House & the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Bastard Countryside is his first book.
Bastard Countryside Series
Bastard Countryside collects together 15 years worth of exploration within the British landscape, dwelling on what Victor Hugo called the ‘bastard countryside’: “somewhat ugly but bizarre, made up of two different natures”. Friend’s large-format colour images scrutinise these inbetween, unkempt, and often surreal marginal areas of the country, highlighting frictions between the pastoral sublime and the discarded, often polluted reality of the present.
Starting from a classical landscape tradition, Friend’s meticulous 5×4 photographs are given heightened effect through exaggerations of colour and composition, embodying a friction between British pastoral ideals and present reality. In particular, Friend follows moments in which the expected narrative of the landscape is rudely interrupted: often through leakage, pollution, or the wreckage and containment of nature.
In his accompanying essay, writer Robert Macfarlane describes Bastard Countryside as “a vision par excellence of our synthetic ‘modern nature’– produced by assemblage and entanglement rather than purity and distinction”. Contained within Friend’s photographs are “hard questions […] about what kinds of landscape one might wish either to pass through or to live in; about what versions of ‘modern nature’ might be worth fighting for, and why.”
Hodge Close Quarry (The print above) is a huge excavation of coloured slate, sheer-sided and unfenced, with an original worked depth from ground level of around 300 feet. It’s one of the many slate workings that was worked on a large scale in the 19th century in the Tilberthwaite Valley, between Langdale and Coniston.
The 150 foot deep face is now a favourite with abseilers, whilst the 150 foot flooded workings are popular with divers. Not a location for the inexperienced, a number of divers and climbers have sadly lost their lives here in recent years.
I had come here wanting to make a picture of the infamous giant skull that appears in the reflection of the icy waters when conditions are just right. But as soon as I saw this cliff face with the dappled light, drill holes for explosives, subtle graffiti and daffodil I knew this was the picture that I needed to make.