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Wave image Kate Friend

After a career spent in fashion and advertising, photographer Kate Friend made a change. Her new subject, renewable energy, lead her— drenched and freezing— to capture jaw-dropping waves.

What prompted this change of direction?


I wanted to do something more interesting for me and more relevant to what the world was going through.

I also wanted to try and shoot something positive. There’s a lot of environmental disaster photography out there. I’m not an expert but I wanted to posit that there might be answers in nature, too.


Hence renewable energy?


Things are about to change and we don’t really know the side effects of all the things we’re exploring. Maybe we’re clever enough to figure out a way to use renewable energy in a way that isn’t going to cause another collapse. 

Light work

Why this particular spot?


Nazaré is unique because of this crazy lighthouse that’s almost at the top of the wave. It’s a mesmeric, man-made point you can stand on, which puts you at the same height as the 100ft wave crests. The whole thing then breaks over you. And not just a light spray. You’re drenched. It gives you this incredible Turner-esque vantage point, as if to say ‘I’m on the mast of a ship in the middle of the storm, looking down at this roiling ocean.’


These certainly aren’t standard postcard pictures.


These waves aren’t the perfect break but no one needs more of those pictures. They’re like sunsets: we’ve got enough. I was drawn to making a wave that looked like a painting. It’s a mix of lighting and patience, waiting and waiting and finally everything aligns, maybe only for five minutes. Then you wait some more and go home freezing and starving but feeling great because you got the shot.

Ultimately, knowing something like a wave or a body of water could kill you puts life into perspective.

Sea change

How did your cameras fair?


I put them through the ringer. They’re not really waterproof but I don’t believe in being precious about them. They are replaceable and insured. There’s that quote by Robert Capa “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

In the same way, you put your body to the test getting shots. I’ve been in extreme environments and just had to do it. You might get ill afterwards but so be it.


So there’s definitely an element of physical commitment as well?


I’m drawn to these types of experiences and places that make you feel you could die there, because it makes you feel not just small but irrelevant. It’s just the antithesis of everything we’re taught to live by; that you’re important, that you’re special. Ultimately, knowing something like a wave or a body of water could kill you puts that into perspective.

Catching a break

How do you feel in those moments?


I really cherish them. I once was free-diving and got pulled into a down-current. Someone had told me this place was famous for its current and if you hear a sound like a train coming, you better hold on, otherwise you’ll be pulled to the bottom. I heard the sound, held onto some rocks and this most incredible force, like being sucked into a whirlpool, pushed and pulled me towards the ocean floor. If I’d let go, that would have been that, but doing that made me feel really alive and respectful and reminded me not to take nature for granted.


What would you like your photos to communicate?


I think there’s an interest there in these waves, these really powerful things that could kill you but they could be the answer to something, too. There’s so much energy there, they’re like wild animals. They could help us but we just haven’t figured it out yet.

We have an abundance of natural energy solutions, but it’s up to us to find responsible ways to harness them. What we don’t want is a repeat of the Industrial Revolution, where we answer our problems only in the short term, with huge negative environmental impacts.

FUEL, an exhibition by Kate Friend, will be on display at the Lightbox Gallery, Ace Hotel, London, from 22nd April.


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