Belly of the Whale
Images by Robin Friend

Robin Friend grew up in Melbourne, on the outskirts of the city, and was fascinated by the relationship between nature and man from an early age. “My friends and I would set off on our bikes, with city behind us. We would spend the day discovering; exploring beyond the suburbs; until eventually the sewers, motorways, reservoirs and backyards would begin to give way to the natural flora and fauna of the Victorian bush. One would witness t he balance of power shift, it was quite incredible; a relationship in flux that was always evolving and changing and therefore impossible to predict.”

After moving to England Robin spent three years living in Exeter. Dartmoor was nearby, a place where he spent a lot of time losing himself. “Often I would just get in the car and drive, not knowing where I was going or what I might find. It was very liberating. Classic stories like The Odyssey, The Golden Bough and Moby Dick – fused with real life accounts and journals from explorers like Stanley, Valerian Albanov, Scott, John Muir and Peter Fleming – gave birth to the Belly of the Whale and the desire to set off and create my own epic adventure.”

Robin, who now lives in London and studied MA Fine Art Photography at the Royal College of Art, usually undertakes projects that are very much site specific and involve careful planning, research and continuous return visits. However the Belly of the Whale has emerged in stark contrast to this process. “The subjects and places depicted are all born out of chance encounters and accidental discoveries. If I do go somewhere specific I try to go there without any preconceived ideas of what it might be like. In our mind’s eye we always have an idea of what something might be like but this is just speculation and hinders the possibility of a meaningful encounter. Most of the time we are unaware of the events we are experiencing, performing tasks as if half asleep. Virginia Woolf called this the ‘cotton wool of daily life’ and talked about how this monotonous and conventional world could be split open by a ‘moment of being’.”

The experience of being there in that moment and making that picture is crucial to Robin’s practice and why he is an artist. “The Belly of the Whale is about seeing and experiencing. Standing before the subject I know if I am witnessing the Belly. It is difficult to explain. A mood, a balance, a sensibility; nostalgia, nihilism, and melancholy all rolled into one. It is instinctive and primeval and relies on one’s capacity to imagine and comprehend. The Belly of the Whale is a world, a place, a landscape that exists on the periphery of time and the borders of fiction.”

Robin’s photographs centre upon our relationship with the environment and our impact on nature.

Copy extracted from an original interview by Jesse Alexander. Jesse is the author of Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography (London: Bloomsbury, 2015) and is currently Course Coordinator, MA Photography at Falmouth.

This feature was first published in Issue One of SATORI. To explore issue one further click here.

Created by Duncan Woods & Seb Camilleri