Book Review: Bastard Countryside
Robin Friend explores the threshold between the land of nature and man, an often overlooked space, in his new book, Bastard Countryside. His book collects 15 years worth of exploration throughout the British landscape, dwelling on what Victor Hugo called the ‘bastard countryside,’ where the rural meets the urban. He explores the collision between the forces of modern infrastructure and the involuntary actions of nature, where nature meets man; the ‘edgeland’.
The edgelands are best expressed in Friend's photo of a lake surrounded by beautiful purple flowers and green trees. But as the trees end the roofs start and behind the roofs, buildings can be seen shooting up from the serenity of the natural foreground. Friend discovers beauty and union in what Hugo referred to as "the end of trees, beginning of roofs… the end of the murmur of things divine, the beginning of the noise of humankind."
Friend uses the edgeland to express man's struggle against nature. In a statement on his website, Friend explains, “My work explores the fragile relationship between human beings and nature.” Friend photographs a forgotten crumbling windmill, balanced on the edge of an opaque lake. The swaying shrubs contrast the detailed broken wood of the tilted windmill. His photography captures both the roughness of infrastructure and the softness of nature. Presenting the lonely, weathered windmill that barely still stands surrounded by the bright, blurred trees.
Those edgelands are often where the disregarded, the broken, and the forgotten go. Friend exposes an abandon blue SUV jutting out amid a mountain of unusable car parts. The blue is mirrored in the large lake only a few feet below, as the mountain slowly sinks into the water; waiting for the natural to take over the unnatural. The unnatural is caught in a captivating way by Friend. He perfectly grasps what Hugo envisioned when he said the "somewhat ugly, by bizarre makeup of two different natures."
Letting his curiosity get the best of him, Friend does what few other photographers can, he presents what many would see as a wasteland as a masterpiece of nature. He pays as much respect to the discarded material as the surrounding greenery it slowly becomes a part of. Friend has the ability to see both the natural and the created as one. He is able to present them in a surreal way, bringing an appreciation to that place where the rooftops end and the trees begin.