PBS Premiere: Aug. 17, 2010Check the broadcast schedule »


Murray Fredericks

Murray Fredericks' photography career was jumpstarted by a post-collegiate trek. He planned to travel through Europe, the Middle East and the Himalayas in the course of one year, but he ended up spending five years on the road and became obsessed with mountains. Fredericks spent time journeying into remote areas in the Himalayas, the Patagonian Andes and in Tasmania, staying for as long in each area as his resources would allow.

Each of those journeys resulted in a body of work that became the subject of a solo exhibition, cementing Fredericks' career as a photographer. The spare quality of Fredericks' latest photo series, SALT, represents a departure from his previous work. While those earlier images were dominated by mountainous countryside, in SALT, the images are more impressionistic, sometimes composed only of fields of sky and earth. But in all his projects, Fredericks says, "The vast scale and power of the locations dwarfs my sense of self, providing a fertile platform from which to produce work."

The SALT photographs -- shot during 14 trips to Lake Eyre over seven years -- were first exhibited alongside renowned photographer Andy Goldsworthy's work at Boutwell Draper Gallery in Sydney and have since been shown in Shanghai, in London and at the Louvre. Prints have been purchased by several major museums in Australia and elsewhere.

» "Murray Fredericks," SALT Documentary.
» Murray Fredericks Photography.

Lake Eyre and the Lake Eyre Basin

Lake Eyre is situated in the Lake Eyre or Great Artesian Basin, a land mass of about 440,150 square miles that comprises one-sixth of the continent of Australia.

The basin is one of the world's largest endorheic basins or internal drainage systems, meaning that it allows no water flow in or out to external rivers or oceans. And although the 3,700-square-mile lake -- a "terminal" or "sink" lake that does not flow to the ocean -- is the lowest point on the continent, it is usually dry, fed and flooded only occasionally by the basin's streams. Vegetation and animal life is sparse in the basin, though some desert animals have adapted to survive in the dry, salty environment. Water from the surrounding area covers the lake bottom once every eight years on average; the lake has been filled to capacity only three times in the past 150 years.

When the lake does fill, however -- generally as the result of rain in the basin -- it becomes a major destination for wildlife from both nearby and as far away as China and Japan, such as silver gulls, red-necked avocets, black cormorants, banded stilts, gull-billed terns and Australian pelicans. The birds feed on shrimp and other salt-water creatures that themselves feed and breed beneath the water line.

Eventually, the water evaporates, and then the salt and minerals that form the lake's unusual surface are left behind; when flooding recurs, much of the salt dissolves. The heavier water then sinks to the bottom and the fresher water rises to the top. Seen from above, sections of more and less salinated water appear in swirling formations.

The lake and basin have held important natural, cultural and spiritual significance for the people of Australia for tens of thousands of years, serving, for example, as the subject of secret Aboriginal "dreaming stories." Locals believe that sharing these stories with outsiders would constitute a threat to the land.

More recently, the area has begun to draw eco-tourists. About 10 percent of the basin is part of various national parks and reserves comprised of rare and threatened ecosystems, vegetation and animal life and therefore protected. Both these protected areas and the remaining land are susceptible to pollution, weed growth and feral animals.

» "Lake Eyre," Encyclopædia Britannica.
» Lake Eyre Basin.
» "Lake Eyre National Park," Australia Department for Environment and Heritage, 2010.
» "The Watershed: Water from the Mountains into the Sea," United Nations Environment Programme.