Murray Fredericks is an award-winning Australian photographer with a penchant for photographing some of the world’s most dramatic and remote places — Patagonia, Tasmania, the Himalayas. In each case, he spends years creating photographic series that go beyond the surface to propel himself and viewers into dizzying, unbounded spaces, challenging the human sense of self and place. About six years ago, Fredericks began making five-week annual trips alone to remote Lake Eyre and its salt flats, the lowest point in Australia. He went, he says, in search of “somewhere I could point my camera into pure space.” He discovered a boundless and beautiful land where sky, water and land merge in extraordinary vistas and surprisingly spectacular colors. He also discovered a harsh place where a lone individual might easily find himself pushed to his physical and mental limits. SALT is the video diary, made in collaboration with Michael Angus, of Fredericks’ pilgrimages to Lake Eyre, a dramatic counterpart to his stunning, stark and surreal photographs.
Three years into his still-photo project at Lake Eyre, Fredericks began taking a video camera along to record his experiences working in such a challenging, visually rewarding environment. His reference points were a crimson, Mars-like landscape, an endless horizon and sunrise and sunset. His only contacts with the outside world were occasional satellite telephone calls with his family. The first footage Fredericks brought back was dramatic and beautiful enough to attract the attention of filmmaker Michael Angus, who began helping him by providing directions for shooting and shaping the material. Angus shot one scene that appears in the film, a spectacular aerial view of Fredericks leaving Lake Eyre. Other footage that he shot in more traditional documentary style ended up on the cutting-room floor. Both men became convinced that SALT needed to be an intimate point-of-view diary.
And very much like Fredericks’ still work, SALT retains an unerringly clear-eyed point of view — that of a photographer heading deeper, visually and spiritually, into a vast landscape, even as he begins to unravel a bit under the stresses of working at Lake Eyre. His struggles with rain, mud, lightning, equipment failure and the ever-corrosive salt, not to mention isolation, are punctuated by his gentle dry humor and phone calls with his wife in Sydney, during which they discuss everyday family events, like their kids’ grades, and larger issues, such as when he will be returning home. Sun and sand, sky and land — everything begins to mix and merge. It’s enough to make anyone begin to question just what he’s doing and why. Yet Fredericks doggedly carries on, and SALT is a remarkable and whimsical diary of the artist’s thoughts and feelings as he grapples with his materials and subject, and his own deep-seated needs and desires.
Interweaving photos and time-lapse sequences with Fredericks’ video diary, SALT recreates a spectacular and severe dreamscape, unhinged from a certainty of time and place. A visual delight and an exceptional portrait of an artist at work, SALT is also a philosophical meditation on the drive to know the world beyond the boundaries of one’s self.
“When Murray showed me the first footage he had shot at Lake Eyre, I was stunned,” says co- director Angus. “I knew there were the makings of an extraordinary documentary about his inner and outer journeys on the lake. Integral to the process was Murray recording his own thoughts, feelings and satellite phone conversations with his wife, Franca, back home in Sydney. I felt it was essential to the project that it be an honest and human portrayal of the artist. My aim was to create within the film itself enough space for viewers to imagine and feel something of the experience for themselves.”
SALT is a production of Jerrycan Film.