Chris Friel was born in Bristol in 1959. Alongside a successful career as a documentary sound recordist for film and television, Friel also worked as a painter. In 2006, in order to photograph his work for an exhibition, Friel acquired an early digital camera and quickly became fascinated with the creative potential of digital photography. He then abandoned painting altogether and dedicated himself to photography, a medium which allowed him the immediacy he craved.

Over the last seventeen years, Friel has taken more than two million photographs, experimenting with ever-evolving digital and in-camera techniques. Since 2020, he has begun using AI programs to splice, distort and replicate his own images – a process which the artist says has “changed everything”.

Friel's work has been shown all over the world, including at the South Bank Centre, London, in the Santiago Subway in Chile, and projected behind the London Sinfonietta at the Royal Festival Hall. His pictures have been featured in The Times, The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone Magazine, to name but a few, and he has been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Landscape Photographer of the Year award three times.

Friel has collaborated with many other artists: from classical composer, Kevin Kastning, to French post-rock band, Les Discrets, and most recently, the poet, S.J. Finn. His photographs have also appeared on numerous book and album covers.

In 2022, Friel’s exhibition Hypergraphia was one of the largest photographic exhibitions ever held, comprising 150,000 images presented as a series of immersive slideshows. These were accompanied by an original score from British composer, Matthew Herbert.

He has worked in 150 countries and would very much like to visit the remaining 46 before the next world war.

David Tregunna IAP FIne Art 2024

Often time I’ve asked myself how it is that physics and art intercede when one is recognisable by the laws of nature and the other by interpretation and will and imagination. So that, as if the atoms in an art work are like the atoms in and around us, moving, as Lucretius would say, … randomly through space, like dust motes in a sunbeam, colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction … how is it that in art we feel the world’s emergence despite knowing it is illusory? And isn’t it this duality between artifice and comprehension, tension and appreciation, brutality and subtlety that we first encounter and then find ourselves tied to, in the work of Chris Friel?

To achieve this breaching and infringement, this violation and interruption, this coding and discombobulation, an alchemy has to be present; a strange and wondrous mix the artist likes to brew. Friel is one such artist. A forever-explorer concerned with boundaries, his photography is always shifting in a process of not just exploring a limit but of devouring it. And, after leaving a space in which meaning presides, he then devours that new limit to form yet another as he presents to us a world we instinctively know is there despite our inability to touch it.  

Often dark and shaky, sometimes unrelentingly obscure, we are drawn to his distortions by something deeply knowledgeable in us that his work ignites. Elastic in nature, the thread his work casts not only opens and divides so that we too are forced to explore and delineate, accept and reject, see into and back-out of, it demands something of us, teaching us to look beyond thresholds. And this breaking of our understanding, undeniable and resonant, satisfying and multilayered, profound and yet capricious, causes us to reassess. We think we know what we’ve seen, but we have to come back, stand in front of the work, just to check.

From Friel’s first landscapes, unsteady while true, to his dark dawns, light coming only when begged for, to his forests of lean English trees, barely discernible from their moored positions, we find photographs building on their own layered scaffold of discovery. There are hills from lands such as Patagonia (Friel has travelled all over the world to garner a source in his lens) that brings to us a sequence that feuds for an explanation between the calm they exude and the sinister we detect. There are seascapes and farm-scapes and interiors, all of which create the same questioning attendance. We are held by their rogue qualities while cradled by their accordance to appeal.    

But it is not just the sphere of nature Friel’s investigations meddle in. We are offered the same through his searching consideration of the human figure and face. Arresting our senses, destabilising and strengthening our comprehension, we are sent into all sorts of corners where the human psyche is exposed and the physical condition is laid bare. We are strapped in for the show, because no matter how thin that thread we’ve been given, how lean his provocations make it, we are still resident, our inner selves still searching for resolution, all of which binds us to his canvases.   

And still the forms Friel wants to reconnoitre and unsettle us with, are evolving. When examining his video compilations, we find the hooking together of complex structures, the building of one image into an entropic form of the next. It is both blindsiding and poetry in motion. Impossible to look away from, it delivers suspicion in the way we recognise our existence, tampering and quelling, in equal measure, with our belief. He has through his work, fractured and reconstructed our image in a lattice-work that is the hard wiring and broad dough of life, its ineffaceable truth and angelic naivety. Even through the most brutal of his considerations, humanness is undeniable.

And so, with a curiosity that is bold and unforgiving, Friel takes us on an endless voyage. The evaluations and interests he captures through his lens, not only build ideas up, they are equally drawn into taking them apart. For me, this signifies a tendency towards entropy, a constant degree of disorder and uncertainty that decommissions and yet never let’s go. And this tendency to undo, to dig deeper into the already ended, into the fragmented and submerged and shattered and splintered, takes us to the edge of each felt slither of emotion. There we are held, not by his request but by his abstraction. 

SJ Finn St Kilda Australia 2024

Gallery : IAP Fine Art

Stock : Trevillion Images

Archive : cfriel.com