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

Q&A with Photographer Murray Fredericks

POV: When and how did you first discover Lake Eyre?

Murray Fredericks: Every schoolchild learns about Lake Eyre at school in Australia. It's the largest lake in Australia and is usually dry. It was mythologized by the early European explorers as possibly the great inland sea of Australia -- which does not exist. Whenever the lake floods -- which happens on average once every 10 ten years, and it has filled completely only three times in 200 years -- it makes news all over the country.

POV: What sort of photography did you do prior to your trips to Lake Eyre?

Fredericks: Prior to the Lake Eyre project I produced three large volumes of work from the Himalayas, Patagonia and Southwest Tasmania. Those landscapes were very complex, mountainous and feature rich. In 2003 I decided it was time for a change and decided to move away from literal, more traditional landscapes. I took on space itself as a subject. The inspiration came from a visit to a salt lake in Bolivia.

POV: Has your experience at the lake each year been spiritual or meditative in any way? If it has, how so?

Fredericks: That's a question I have been asked frequently, but no, the experience itself was not necessarily a spiritual one and that was certainly not the aim of the project. I find that day-to-day living, dealing with the demands of a large family and the fiscal reality of an artist's life, provides more of an opportunity for personal growth than these trips.

POV: Have you ever brought another person to Lake Eyre with you, or do you always travel alone?

Fredericks: On a very early short trip, my wife and young boys came to the lake, and a couple of friends visited me out there in early stages of the project when I was based on the edge of the lake for short stays. Once I realized that I needed to spend continuous long periods out on the lake, I always went alone. Michael Angus joined me on one trip to gain an understanding of the process -- but no footage from that trip was used in the film.

Salt: Murray Fredericks filming on Lake Eyre, closeup
Murray Fredricks photographing Lake Erye. Photo courtesy of Murray Fredericks.

POV: Where did you get the idea to create a documentary about your trips to Lake Eyre, and how did you come to work with Michael Angus?

Fredericks: In 2005, I borrowed a small DVCAM to document a couple of aspects of the trip for the master's degree I was pursuing at the University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts in Sydney. When I returned and started showing friends and colleagues some of the very rough footage to explain what I was doing, they had very strong reactions. What had become almost mundane to me was of great interest to others who had never experienced it. I spoke to Michael about the footage, knowing he was a documentary filmmaker and he was very interested in exploring whether or not there was a full documentary to be made on the project. Once he saw the footage he recognized the potential, and it evolved from there.

I knew Michael through friends, and over the years we had had a few conversations regarding the artistic process where we felt a genuine connection.

POV: Do you plan on going back to Lake Eyre indefinitely? Or will this project end in the foreseeable future?

Fredericks: The Lake Eyre project essentially is finished. I will probably head back there for a visit at some stage, as I feel quite attached to the place. However, the driving sense that there is much more to shoot is gone.

POV: What equipment did you use to photograph Lake Eyre?

Fredericks: The bulk of the still images were shot on an 8-by-10-inch view camera. In the final year of the project I started experimenting with a medium format digital back on a digital view camera to employ stitching as a method of capturing a wider field of view. The time-lapse cameras were Canon digital SLR cameras and the video camera was a Panasonic P2.

POV: What advice would you give young photographers and other artists searching for inspiration?

Fredericks: Having a good knowledge of art history and the history of your particular medium is essential. Art is a form of communication and to communicate effectively you require knowledge of the language. The language of your particular medium can be understood and learned through its history. During the process of learning the history of a medium, people may find the potential to create something new. This potential and the excitement it creates are a kind of inspiration.