Two styles, two ways of looking, one message. Robin Friend and Igor Tereshkov, each in his own way, use images to testify to the way the modern world is disfiguring our landscapes, poisoning the earth down to its core, and annihilating all animal life. The center of photography ImageSingulières in Sète in the south of France cleverly juxtaposes these two long-term projects.
Robin Friend, “Bastard Countryside”
“This sort of bastard countryside [is] rather ugly, but also strange and dual in nature… ‘end of ruts, beginning of passions’,” said Robin Friend, borrowing Victor Hugo’s words from Les Misérables. His exhibition (as well as a book), “Bastard Countryside”, is a journey through British rural areas. This is a countryside with roads hugged by thick hedgerows, just wide enough for a car; a countryside of mist-covered green hills; of stone villages and of coastlines swept by the sea. But there it is. The London-born photographer shows us the backdrop, this bastard countryside marred by humans, a hybrid between city and nature.
His work is an investigation. In search of metaphorical sites: those that best illustrate the destruction of nature through the excesses of the modern world. His images hit the mark, like this photo of an underground junkyard—a discovery made by the photographer in North Wales. He had to rope down, get into a rubber dinghy, and use a powerful projector to capture this post-apocalyptic view. Here is the trace of human life on earth: a heap of car wrecks, engines, tires, and rusted scrap metal. It’s hard to understand how all this junk made it into this cave. Only a halo illuminates the scene. The water is a mirror that multiplies the sorry spectacle.
Robin Friend has a universe of his own: poetic and activist. His images tell a whole story and illustrate an ecological disaster. For example, his photo of this sperm whale stranded in Norfolk: two women approach the animal; one of them timidly touches its snout. The imposing carcass is bleeding out, sprawled on a pebbled beach alongside another wreck, the hull of a boat. This image is symbolic of our awareness of a damaged, enfeebled, martyred world. Robin Friend leaves us with a simple question: what planet are we leaving for future generations?
Igor Tereshkov, “Oil and Moss”
Ferocious black and white, darkness, some movement: Igor Tereshkov’s photos seem exhumed from a nineteenth-century album. In 2018, he joined Greenpeace in Surgut in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug in West Siberia, a district which produces nearly 50% of Russian oil. In Russia, about 1.5 million tons of oil are spilled each year into the environment, and oil extraction pollutes the soil and threatens the way of life of reindeer-breeding, semi-nomadic peoples. “Oil and Moss” tells their story.
Inky viscous stains dot every photo. The photographer, born in Enerhodar in Ukraine, bathed his 35mm film in water polluted with drops of crude oil. The substance attacks the film randomly, symbolizing human impact on the environment as well as on the photographer himself. “In addition to the environmental disaster affecting the natural world, the quality of water, polluting the moss on reindeer graze on, I think we’re also facing a crisis of ownership of the subsoil. It is a kind of colonization.”
While working on this project, Igor Tereshkov was under surveillance by the oil companies. Some galleries did not dare to exhibit his work, for fear of losing subsidies. These stained, blurry photos, in which light struggles for survival, are themselves tainted. The message is palpable, embodied in the photographic material, where the impact of the oil industry is imprinted directly on paper. But the photographer does not see this as an expression of the end of a world: “I see a certain romanticism and hope for change by showing the problem. It allows us to talk about it, to recognize the facts, and that’s the hope.”
By Michaël Naulin
Michaël Naulin is a journalist. Having worked in regional and national newspapers, he is above all passionate about photography and more particularly reporting.
Centre photographique ImageSingulières, 15 rue Lacan, 34200 Sète, France.