"They are literally pictures of nothing, but nothing has never looked so good."
John McDonald, Art Critic, Sydney Morning Herald
- The 'SALT' Project is in its 6th year in 2008 and has involved around 12 trips to Lake Eyre. Each year at least one 'long' journey was made where a month was spent living alone in the centre of the Lake.
- Murray’s impetus for the 'SALT' series came from a visit to a salt flat in Bolivia during a previous project. The experience of being overwhelmed by the space of the 'salar' was so powerful that the memory of it sent him searching for a location closer to home.
- Murray was determined to break with the language of ‘conventional’ landscape photography. Lake Eyre is devoid of the ‘traditional’ forms and features of landscape imagery. The absence of mountains, trees, rocks and rivers made the salt flats a perfect location for the project.
- Landscape Photographs 'tend' to be about representing 'place'. In this series, however, Lake Eyre is just the setting. The Salt Series is about conveying 'essence', not 'place'
Recording the Documentary
In 2006 Murray borrowed a small video camera to record some of his Lake Eyre experiences on video. The footage was only intended to supplement the documentation of the Masters in Fine Arts he was completing at UNSW. When Murray showed his friend and film-maker Mick Angus the footage, however, Mick immediately recognized a documentary in the making:
"I was amazed by the landscape and the conditions in which Murray worked. I loved the necessary ‘still frame’ compositions of the footage – Murray knew nothing about video but he knew how to compose a beautiful still image. The shots he came back with were like moving stills and they now form the visual basis of the documentary. It was funny, it didn’t even seem that special to him… he had spent so long out there I guess it had become 'normal' I thought, this is great and people need to see it!"
Creating the Shot
All the footage in the documentary was recorded by Murray himself, with the exception of the aerial shots. Working alone with such wide frames is difficult. Murray would often start filming then retrace his own steps (sometimes for over a kilometer) to prevent a ‘false’ trail appearing in the shot. If the scene wasn’t quite right, he would repeat the process.
To achieve a ‘long haze shot’ Murray rode 5km to appear merged with the horizon then used a GPS to find his way back to camera. This shot was performed twice.
At the end of each trip the footage was reviewed by Director Mick Angus, who then suggested new events and routines that Murray should record on the next visit.
Mick joined Murray on one of his expeditions in March 2008. It’s interesting to note, that none of the footage taken on that trip made it into the documentary. The footage lacked the intensity that was present when Murray was out there alone. Nonetheless, Mick’s journey out onto the Lake was invaluable as he gained direct experience of life out in the centre and this helped immeasurably to inform the form of the documentary.
On the last visit, Mick, with pilot Gary Ticehurst and aerial cinematographer Blair Monk, flew over and filmed Murray on the Lake. These shots we considered necessary to give a true indication of the vastness and the almost ‘abstract’ scale of Lake Eyre.
Living on the Lake
Murray has spent years of his life living alone in remote areas while photographing. He has a deep respect and affinity for the places he works in and keeps his impact on his surroundings to an absolute minimum.
Throughout this series, all waste (including human waste) was carried off the Lake in a plastic bag. Only expedition stoves (no fires) were used to cook food. Apart from the proverbial footprints, no trace of his visits could be found on the Lake.
All supplies are transported to the Lake from Sydney which invloved 2-3 days of desert driving. Water was generously re-supplied from Trevor and Cindy Mitchell, the farmers whose property borders the Lake at Muloorina Station. This water is not publicly available and visitors must bring their own supplies). The Muloorina driveway is 55km long starting just outside Marree in the North East pastoral district of South Australia. Murray accessed the Lake through a private road about 100km further on from the homestead.
Access onto the Lake itself was by foot or push-bike and trailer. The trailer was loaded with 90kgs of equipment and supplies, including 50kgs of water, an 8" x 10" field 'plate film' camera, a DSLR camera, a video camera and 3 tripods. Usually the bike travels slightly slower than walking pace when fully loaded. With a howling wind from behind, the bike can reach speeds of up to 20km per hour. When it’s wet it’s difficult to move at all and a 200m section of mud may take hours to traverse.