"The dumping was huge," says Robin friend. I documented the surreal scene during my visit to the mine a few years ago, capturing a mountain of metal that seemed to tilt towards its reflection in the murky water below. "I do not know how long it lasts," Friend said, "but I looked at one of the registration plates, and she was 40 or 50 years old."
Friend began exploring mines and quarries in North Wales in 2008, attracted by the challenge of shooting in the dark. Since then, he has visited more than ten people, including Manod's slate mine, where Winston Churchill hid from the Nazis the art of Britain, and Cwmorthin's quarry, a maze of well-known tunnels. Spreading that Friend has wandered many times. "Some of them really train you," he says.
None was as difficult to photograph as the Gaewern Mine, however. To reach it, a friend and a companion drove seven hours away from London, then descended on an extremely narrow ledge hugging a cliff at the entrance. Inside, they brought five stories closer – a huge tripod, a large-format camera and other equipment on their backs – and then slipped into a low, claustrophobic tunnel that overlooked the cave you see above.
Friend was most struck by the almost religious beam of light that split to split in the rock. To capture this light, while properly lighting the rest of the scene, he had to leave his camera open for five full minutes. During the first minute of exposure, I used a powerful flashlight to trace the darkest objects that I wanted to highlight. Then I turned it off and let natural light accumulate on the film for the rest of the shot.
The resulting image looks like a suitable painting. He appears in the new book of Friend Bastard Campaign, look at the impact of the industry on rural landscapes eleven romanced by artists like John Constable and J.MW Turner. "I was looking for places where the natural and the artificial meet," says Friend, "creating these new forms as beautiful as ugly".