[ EPF 2019 FINALIST ]
“At the bottom of the hill where we used to live, a creek had been realigned to prevent it from flooding. Huge concrete banks on either side created a narrow canal that stretched as far as could see. With the creek on our right and the city behind us, we set off on our bikes – until eventually the sewers, motorways, backyards and industrial sites gave way to the flora and fauna of the Victorian bush.” (Me, aged 9). To this day, I’m still drawn to places where the natural and human worlds clash, interact and splat into each other. However, the innocent excitement I once felt for these sites has given way to unease. Made all over the UK, these pictures possess a magical sadness and inhabit what Victor Hugo described as “that kind of bastard countryside, somewhat ugly but bizarre, made up of two different natures…the end of the beaten track, the beginning of the passions, the end of the murmur of things divine, the beginning of the noise of humankind”. Hugo also described how observing a city’s edge “is to observe an amphibian”; thinking of the Paris periphery as a living, breathing creature pushing out and changing everything in its wake, blurring the city/countryside divide. Fast forward two hundred years and Hugo’s amphibian has grown tentacles on steroids and is not just devouring everything in its path, but shitting and puking incessantly as well.
The “Bastard Countryside” is no longer found in the fringe areas, it’s everywhere you look. My Bastard Countryside is the struggle between humanity and nature, two contrasting forces fighting for control. But there’s also a part of it that resides someplace else; in a fictive realm that gestures towards some unknown, a less certain landscape. With a feeling of things left behind and what is still to come, these pictures tap into our cultural anxiety of what the future holds and how we are leaving this planet broken for generations to come.
Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2009 I have been practicing full-time producing, work in London, where my studio is located. In 2012 I spent a year in the USA meeting and photographing a hundred of the nation’s most prominent artists for the Thames & Hudson’s book ‘Art Studio America’. I got to photograph one of my heroes, Hiroshi Sugimoto. In spring 2018, the National Gallery staged MANOD, an exhibition of my work. This explored the remarkable wartime history of the Gallery’s history when the national art collection was stored in a disused slate mine in Wales. In parallel the BBC commissioned me to write and direct a 30 minute film in which I collaborated with Wayne Macgregor, the UK’s leading contemporary choreographer, to create an immersive dance narrative of moving images illuminating the MANOD story. In December last year, my monograph Bastard Countryside was published by Loose Joints. This series of work explores the edgelands of the United Kingdom, dramatising the beauty, mystery and sublime elements of its 21st century backwaters. I would love dearly to exhibit this project in the USA some day. My latest project Blink of an Eye explores the knife epidemic and unprecedented level of youth violence that is currently happening in London. The subject is often discussed using generalizations – this work will blend personal, real-life testimonies of those affected with analysis of many different causes and issues. It will take me a year to make.
The Emerging Photographer Fund is supported by generous donors to the Magnum Foundation
1 thought on “Robin Friend – Bastard Countryside”
This is excellent. What a perfect statement, a post apocalyptic peek into the future of the planet. I’m also struck by the aesthetic, perfectly composed photographs, somehow beautiful in spite of what they depict. Thanks Robin.
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