This important new work confirms Melanie Friend as one of the leading landscape photographers working in this country today. The Plain holds in perfect tension the light and dark sides of the British landscape, and deepens Friend's engagement with landscape as a complex meeting ground of nature and state.
- Kate Bush, Senior Photography Curator, Tate Britain.
The chalk grasslands of Salisbury Plain have been used since 1897 as a preparation ground for war. The heart of this ancient English landscape is an eerie and ambiguous space. The Plain is both the UK's largest military training ground and also a conservation area shared with archaeologists and dogwalkers, larks and corn buntings, wildflowers and rare forms of wildlife.
Melanie Friend's photographs reveal the military presence as a disquieting feature on the horizon: a rusty tank positioned as a target, a red box used for field telephones in a copse, smoke from an exploding shell. In the inaccessible ‘Impact Area', a cluster of distant soldiers undertake firing exercises. Red flags warn the visitor to keep out; signage to the military remind them not to drive tanks over Neolithic barrows. Occasionally, Friend has closer encounters with an artillery gun or an armoured vehicle, but often the landscape holds sway; manoeuvres are heard, but not always seen.
Riven with contradictions and curiosities, The Plain continues Friend's investigation of everyday militarisation, revealing how war is embedded in this most English of landscapes.
The Plain includes an essay by Matthew Flintham, artist and writer. It is co-edited by Pippa Oldfield, Head of Programme at Impressions Gallery and author of Photography and War (Reaktion, 2019).
In the 1980s and early 1990s Melanie Friend worked extensively as a photojournalist, before focusing on the wider aspects of war through long-term photographic projects. Earlier works include the international touring exhibitions Homes & Gardens: Documenting the Invisible (1996), and Border Country (2007), each with accompanying publications, and her book No Place Like Home: Echoes from Kosovo (Midnight Editions, USA, 2001). Friend was Reader in Photography at the University of Sussex 2003-19.
The Home Front (2013), originally curated by Pippa Oldfield of Impressions Gallery, reflected on the staging of war as entertainment at air shows, and toured internationally; it was published as a book by Dewi Lewis in association with Impressions Gallery. Images from The Home Front were included in the group exhibitions A Green and Pleasant Land held at Towner Gallery, UK (2017/18) and Generation War at Torrance Art Museum, Los Angeles County, USA (2019). See melaniefriend.com for c.v., details of works and reviews.