'The Home Front', Melanie Friend 14 Nov - 31 Jan 2015

From the distant silhouette of a Lancaster bomber glimpsed over a British seaside resort, to the hidden world of global arms trade fairs, The Home Front explores links between militarism, marketing and entertainment. Made over four years, this is a major new exhibition by British photographer Melanie Friend.

The Home Front is a set of three related photographic series that together explore the civilian experience of war, with a particular focus on public air shows that take place at Royal Air Force bases, and in the skies above seaside resorts. The first series depicts expansive beachscapes that are temporarily militarised by the fleeting roar of fighter jets, whilst children and holidaymakers look up from below. Nostalgia for the Second World War is evoked by the display of ‘warbirds’ such as the Lancaster Bomber, whilst contemporary jets such as the Tornado, recently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, are also showcased.

The second series reveals the on-ground attractions of air shows. Frequently billed as a fun day out for the family, Friend captures the humour and unease in scenes of visitors taking tank rides, handling weapons, or trying on military uniforms. These air shows also offer opportunities for military recruitment and the commemoration of past conflicts.

In the third series, Friend offers a rare glimpse into the environments of international arms fairs and air show trade days, usually off-limits to the general public. Her photographs depict how military technology and services are marketed and sold, from the latest drone aircraft and gold-plated automatic weapons, through to special effects for simulated battle wounds.

Friend says ‘there is a clear disconnect between the enjoyment of war technologies as leisure and entertainment, and the actual effect of weapons. I’m interested in examining our complicity as civilians with the wars our government undertakes, and uncovering how war is normalised’.

Melanie Friend began her career as a photojournalist and radio reporter producing features for the anti-nuclear movement and for The Guardian, Times Educational Supplement, BBC Radio Four and BBC World Service. Much of her work has directly or indirectly engaged with conflict. From the mid-1990s she began working on long-term photographic projects, exhibiting at international museums and galleries including Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, Toronto; Belfast Exposed Photography; Hasselblad Centre, Sweden; and Houston Center for Photography, USA. Previous books and exhibitions include Homes and Gardens: Documenting the Invisible (1996), No Place Like Home: Echoes from Kosovo (2001), and Border Country (2007). Her work is held in the public collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. She has lectured internationally including at the University of Harvard, USA; University of Oxford, UK; University of Paris, France; and University of Berne, Switzerland amongst others. Friend is currently Senior Lecturer (Photography) in the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex.

Credits: The Home Front is an Impressions Gallery touring exhibition, curated by Pippa Oldfield. Supported by Arts Council England and the University of Sussex, Spectrum Photographic and Metro Imaging.

A full colour hardback publication The Home Front with a foreword by Hilary Roberts, Head Curator of Photography, Imperial War Museum, and a specially commissioned essay by Pippa Oldfield, Head of Programme at Impressions Gallery, is published by Dewi Lewis Publishing in association with Impressions Gallery.

Art & Design Gallery,
College Lane, Hatfield, AL10 9AB. Admission Free
Gallery Opening Times: 
Mon-Fri 9.00am – 5.00pm / Sat 9.30am – 3.30pm 
Artist’s Reception: Thurs 4 December, 6.00pm – 8.00pm
Melanie Friend will talk about her work at 7.00pm. All welcome. Admission free.