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.”
Land’s End (above) I return to this shipwreck in Cornwall every other year to see how it’s doing. It’s been there since 2003 which is coincidentally when I started making Bastard Countryside pictures. This project was a slow burner but for me that was important. I needed that time for the ideas to fully germinate and the places and objects to reveal themselves. I made this particular picture over a decade ago – today is looks very different. It’s slowly bleeding out and decomposing into the landscape, turning everything around it a red rusty ochre. I once spent the night on it. I thought it would be a cool thing to do. I was naïve. It looks really calm, but that’s because of the long exposure. It was actually fucking scary.