Photographer Kate Friend’s new series explores the power of nature, starting with ocean waves. We catch up with her on UN World Water Day to find out more.


Tell us a bit about your FUEL series and what inspired you to start it?

I became fascinated with this moment we’re at in history – where the possibility of meeting our energy needs from sustainable sources is right there in natural resources, but we haven’t quite figured out the science to harness this potential. Like the industrial revolution, we’re at the cusp of this ‘Renewable Revolution’ which will change everything about how we live and what civilisation will look like. I wish I could be here in 100 years to see the outcome.

Why start with waves?

A persuasive way to talk about an issue is to make it beautiful, and I had a lot of extraordinary coastline right on my doorstep in Portugal, so starting with waves was easy. I wanted to explore natural resources in a big, glamorous way. Nazaré is home to some of the largest and most powerful waves in the world, so it was the perfect starting point to explore power and potential. The next chapters of FUEL will be geothermal energy in Iceland and landfill gas in India, so some very different landscapes but similar to the waves in scale. 


”A wave feels alive but a wave does not care about or even notice us, we're irrelevant to it. It’s like a wild animal.”

– Kate Friend


What is it about waves that awes us?

A wave feels alive but a wave does not care about or even notice us, we're irrelevant to it. It’s like a wild animal, making us feel both the power possible within nature and our vulnerability when up against it. Being made to feel irrelevant is awe-inspiring. It’s the opposite of what we’re brought up to think in an individualistic culture. Perhaps it's the same thing people feel when they look at stars. 

What was it like at Nazaré – does it compare to anywhere else you’ve been or is it a whole other level?

Another level. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not only is the wave huge, like a Hokusai print, but it's also wild and stormy like a Turner painting. It’s not tidy or predictable. Nazaré never breaks the same way twice. Each break feels like it’s going to engulf the village. It’s mesmeric and would kill you in a second if you were anything other than extremely experienced out there.

Do you think the solution to our energy/climate crisis, kind of poetically, will come from the waves, the wind and the sun? Will the Earth’s systems save the Earth?

No, I don’t think it’s going to be that romantic or redemptive. The Earth will not save us – we have to do it. The solutions lie with clever folks: engineers and designers and bio tech future thinkers, and their full support via public and private investment. The solution lies in changing our habits and expectations. Solving the crisis is going to mean life is less comfortable and less immediate, and we have to fully realize and accept that in order to save anything.

What inspires you about the ocean?

I always wanted to travel to space, but when I discovered the ocean, I realised there was enough unchartered alien territory right here on Earth. It’s the place I’m happiest - on it, by it, in it. I spent 8 hours a day photographing that same wave in Nazaré and never got bored. The ocean is meditation, it’s entertainment, it’s therapy, it’s adrenaline – it’s whatever you need at that time. 

What is your favourite ocean creature?

Camouflaging octopuses... I’ve met a few and there’s no way I could eat them now.


FUEL will be on show for Earth Day at the Ace Hotel London, with Kate curating a discussion on the future of energy there on April 22. For more, see her website and Instagram.