Lake Eyre: reflection in the outback

By Judy Leung 30 September 2011
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A new exhibition showcases Lake Eyre as you’ve never seen this outback icon.

BRILLIANT COLOUR AND INFINITE space portray the beautiful stillness and contemplative aura of Lake Eyre, in Murray Fredericks’ SALT series.

The photographs are a culmination of eight years’ work, involving 16 solo trips to Lake Eyre – in the remote northern corner of South Australia – sometimes lasting five weeks. During these times Murray camped in isolation while photographing the featureless surrounds that make Lake Eyre one of the classic images of Australia.

Lake Eyre: essence over landscape

In his photography work, Murray attempts to represent the experience when thought is temporarily suspended and the mind encounters “other”, he told Australian Geographic. SALT conveys “essence over place”, showing a Lake Eyre – currently flooded with water and wildlife – at its most still, most meditative and most transcendental, and not just as a landscape.

Rather than Lake Eyre being the subject of his photographs, “space itself was the subject,” says Murray, who says he had, “reached a point where I wanted more of out the work than just to creating beautiful landscape vistas. I knew it was essential that I kept working with and in the landscape but I knew if I kept shooting the same stuff in the same manner as everyone else, the audience for the work would become bored through familiarity.”

The concentration of colour and space in SALT has observers comparing Murray’s work to that of JMW Turner’s landscape paintings. The project “captures what I originally intentioned by having almost no detail, sitting right on the edge of total abstraction yet still being recognisable as belonging to the series,” Murray says.

In isolation at Lake Eyre

Murray was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. After studying politics and economics at Sydney University, he spent five years travelling in the Middle East and in the Himalaya. Essentially a self-taught photographer, Murray says the lengthy time he spent in these “powerful locations” guided his approach to photography.

Having a definite purpose, a satellite phone used to call home every night, and a lot of “big heavy books” helped Murray manage the isolation of the outback at Lake Eyre. To break up the extensive amount of time spent here, he would move camp or cycle off the lake for a re-supply of water – the physical exertion made a “huge difference to the mental state,” he says.

The project, which includes Murray’s first documentary film, SALT, will be on show at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney from 14 October to 19 November.