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Robin Friend

The vastness of Australia's landscape and nature have influenced Friend's photographic relationship with the environment, as his current Hot Shoe gallery exhibition shows

Photographer Robin Friend is having a good year. He featured in Kay Saatchi’s ANTICIPATION, has been included in book and exhibition Regeneration2 which lands at the Aperture Gallery New York in January, and has been selected as a finalist in the Terry O’Neil Award. His photographs centre upon our relationship with the environment. From slate mines to logging sites, our impact on nature as viewed through his lens is a symbiotic relationship of growth and decay, triumph and defeat.

Dazed Digital: What was the first photo you ever took?
Robin Friend:
To be honest I cannot remember the first photograph I ever took. I remember my first camera though. My grandma gave it to me on my fifth birthday. It was red and had a built in flash, and took an unusual type of film. I took this camera on numerous family adventures. I remember one particular time we were camping by the sea and I found a blowfish, which had washed up on the shore. I lay on my stomach so I could be at the same level as the fish and made the photograph. Looking into its eyes I felt an exchange take place, a sensation I cannot describe in words but can see clearly in the picture. 

DD: Is your connection to the landscape framed by your time growing up in Australia?
Robin Friend:
The colours and textures I remember from my childhood have undoubtedly had an impact on the palette I employ in my work. The Australian landscape was both alive and dead; numb, muted shades would be punctured by vibrant hues bursting with an intensity I can still remember vividly. Our physical and visual environment not only influences our imagination and perception but also shapes our identity and memory. I moved permanently to England at the age of fifteen and found myself being drawn to sites that resembled or reminded me of the landscape I had left behind. 

DD: What made you move to large format?
Robin Friend:
That would be Jem Southam who used to teach on my BA. He is a brilliant large-format landscape photographer. I would be looking at the detail in his prints and thinking WOW I want my subjects be alive and sing like that. Also the large format camera slows down the process of making the picture. I want to spend time with my subject, allowing a space to open up in which a discovery might occur. 

DD: How long do you spend in an environment before you settle on a picture?
Robin Friend:
This will always vary. It is often important that I go back to the subject or place I have photographed. Since finding the shipwreck in 2003 I have been going back at least once a year. I once spent a couple of nights on it! Over the last couple of years I have been returning to the same mine in Wales. Every time I go back I see of learn something new. It is about having a relationship with the subject. 

DD: Are you mourning the loss of a certain kind of relationship between nature and man?
Robin Friend:
We have lost a way of looking and thinking about the world that we will never be able to recover. Perception is very fragile and is in constant flux. To recognise the deep changes in human experience and perception over time is to recognise the fragility and fleeting nature of our own existence and ‘modern civilisation’. 

DD: Is photography now accepted as art?
Robin Friend:
It took some time but there is no denying that the art world has embraced photography. It is not important how it is categorized anyway what matters is that the audience connects with the work.

Robin Friend is showing at Hot Shoe Gallery, 29-31 Saffron Hill, Farringdon, London EC1, from today and until December 15

Text by Natasha Hoare