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The Salt Series (2016) Murray Fredericks

P e r c Tu c k e r R e g i o n a l G a l l e r y


Published on the occasion of

Publisher Gallery Services Gallery Services, Townsville City Council PO Box 1268 Townsville Queensland, 4810 Australia ptrg@townsville.qld.gov.au ŠGallery Services, Townsville City Council and the authors 2016 ISBN: 978-0-949461-19-3 Organised by Gallery Services Shane Fitzgerald Eric Nash Erwin Cruz Louise Cummins Rob Donaldson Jo Stacey Holly Grech-Fitzgerald Carly Sheil Leonardo Valero Rurik Henry Sarah Welch Jess Cuddihy Sarah Reddington Danielle Berry Wendy Bainbridge Damian Cumner Nicole Richardson Samuel Smith Jo Lankester

Perc Tucker Regional Gallery 28 October - 27 November 2016 Curators Shane Fitzgerald / Eric Nash

Manager Gallery Services Curator Exhibitions and Collection Coordinator Education and Programs Coordinator Digital Media and Exhibition Design Coordinator Team Leader Administration Gallery Services Collections Management Officer Digital Media and Exhibition Design Officer Exhibitions Officer Exhibitions Officer Public Art Officer Education and Programs Officer Education and Programs Assistant Arts Officer Administration Officer Gallery Assistant Gallery Assistant Gallery Assistant Gallery Assistant

Contact: Perc Tucker Regional Gallery Cnr. Denham and Flinders St Townsville QLD 4810 Mon - Fri: 10am - 5pm Sat - Sun: 10am - 2pm

Contributing Authors Shane Fitzgerald / Eric Nash Publication Design and Development Rob Donaldson / Eric Nash Acknowledgements Gallery Services would like to acknowledge the enthusiasm and dedication of the artist, Murray Fredericks, and the continued support of Townsville City Council in the realisation of this project. Inside Front Cover

SALT 303

2008

Digital pigment print on cotton rag 150 x 400 cm Edition of 7

Inside Back Cover

SALT 401

2014

Digital pigment print on cotton rag 140 x 310 cm (07) 4727 9011 ptrg@townsville.qld.gov.au www.townsville.qld.gov.au @TCC_PercTucker PercTuckerTCC

Edition of 7


C O N T E N T S F O R E W O R D

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SHANE FITZGERALD M a n a g e r, G a l l e r y S e r v i c e s

S U R R E N D E R I N G TO T H E V O I D ERIC NASH C u r a t o r, G a l l e r y S e r v i c e s

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SALT

FOREWORD Through his photographs, Murray Fredericks presents us with the beauty, power, and enormity of some of the most unique landscapes in the world.

More than a series depicting any one location though, these works are a study of isolation and our experiences of empty space.

This focus was shaped by five years spent traveling through distinctive locations such as the Middle East and in the Himalaya – trips that followed his studies in the altogether less beautiful fields of politics and economics.

The artist made sixteen solo journeys to Lake Eyre between 2003 and 2010, at times spending as long as five weeks in complete solitude, absorbing the very essence of the location. His occupation of the space, and the repetition of his days there, were essential to his process of capturing the SALT series.

While he has now completed both a Masters of Art and Masters of Fine Art at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, these qualifications came some time into his exhibiting career. Therefore, he is primarily selftrained; his early explorations of the camera coinciding with his journeys to various remote locations. This exhibition is a sumptuous collection of shots from perhaps Fredericks’ most lauded series, SALT. Each photograph presents a unique view of Lake Eyre, the Australian outback’s uninterrupted dry salt pan. For many of us so accustomed to the urban environment, the brilliant sunrise and sunset; cracked red earth; the infinite expanse of the night sky combine to give the appearance of a completely alien and awe-inspiring location.

Widely celebrated, the works have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and are collected in major public and private collections internationally. Confirming his place as one of the nation’s most significant contemporary photographers, Fredericks’ work was recently shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of a major survey show of contemporary landscape photography. Now, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery is proud to be able to present these landmark works for Townsville audiences. Shane Fitzgerald Manager, Gallery Services Perc Tucker Regional Gallery and Pinnacles Gallery

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SALT 300 [detail] 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 300 cm Edition of 7


Murray Fredericks

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SURRENDERING TO THE VOID For Murray Fredericks, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is simultaneously blank canvas, muse, and collaborator. He attests, “On each visit I camp in the middle of the lake for up to five weeks at a time. I choose to engage with a landscape that is a remote whiteness, devoid of features – an ‘information-less’ landscape. It is an opportunity to work with an empty mind and an empty space.” 1 Bereft of features punctuating the horizon line in every direction, Fredericks surrenders himself to the void, giving himself over to something more significant than himself. He ‘dissolves’ into the endless cracked earth, the brilliant light, the formidable cloud formations and the seemingly infinite night sky. During each occupation of Lake Eyre, he learns the space more intimately. He becomes at one with the landscape, and in turn the landscape becomes at one with the artist. At this point, Lake Eyre becomes so much more to Fredericks than his muse, also taking on the role of collaborator, an entity with an equal stake in directing the desired shots. He explains, “It’s a kind of a surrender; a recognition that ‘I’ am not in control. For a time my whole life is given over to a single aim and the realisation that the ends are not dictated only by me. There is a sense of being given permission to complete the work.” 2

Since childhood, Fredericks has been comfortable spending long periods of time alone in the wilderness. Over time, his adventures became increasingly extreme and remote as he searched for somewhere to be truly alone, and therefore fully immerse himself in the landscape. In Lake Eyre, Fredericks found the perfect location. Fredericks first journeyed to Lake Eyre in 2003. With no cars permitted on the Lake itself, he would undertake the gruelling journey by bicycle, ferrying his equipment across unforgiving terrain, and ultimately setting up camp at the dried heart of the Lake some 200km from any sense of civilisation. Beyond the loneliness, which Fredericks would combat through his photographic work and reading, the biggest challenge was presented by the perimeter of ‘glue-like’ mud that borders the Lake. Stretching up to four kilometers, this terrain proved impossible to ride through, forcing Fredericks to painfully drag his bicycle and over 100 kilograms of equipment through the mud for one to two days each trip. Despite being an arduous undertaking, Lake Eyre was the ideal location for Fredericks’ work as it is one of the few locations on Earth with a perfectly uninterrupted horizon line in every direction. It enabled him to create a series based on what he terms, “infinite space.” 3

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SALT 154 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7


Murray Fredericks

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SALT

As a result of Lake Eyre’s absence of ‘features’, it stands that there are few works in the series punctuated by any singular focal point; SALT 300, and Muybridge (SALT 500) providing the only exceptions. The general absence of natural or man-made reference points means the works aren’t weighed down by any sense of scale. They are boundless – infinite as Fredericks would put it – and they go far beyond any traditional or ‘postcard’ photographic depiction of a landscape, instead querying the human response to emptiness. Many photographers have documented ‘something’ – very few have tried to photograph the absence of anything. Fredericks explained, “The whole idea of approaching emptiness involves [the risk of ] almost destroying me – at least the conscious part being torn apart by the solitude. Out of that process come these objects.” 4 Clouds, the cracked red earth, and the misty night sky littered with millions of stars provide visual inspiration, however many works are far more minimal. His masterful handling of light in these works, particularly at sunrise and sunset, results in moody, ethereal colour fields segmented by a distinct horizon line.

Speaking of the effects of sunset and sunrise at Lake Eyre, Fredericks explained, “Everything happens on the cusp, on the change. It’s the transition periods that are interesting because that’s when the stuff you can’t imagine or can’t expect happens.” 5 Fredericks’ insights into the creation of a work such as SALT 101 also underline just how well he understands the Lake Eyre location, and how he is able to capitalise on very specific occurrences or elements in the environment to achieve his desired result. “The black line is the edge of the Lake, miles away from where I was standing. Working in such a space, I was keenly aware of variations in hue. In this shot, taken just after dusk, I was fixated on the subtle transition of orange to deep blue.” 6 In other examples, Fredericks is able to exploit some rare rainwater to create a mirrored effect, whereby the desert light seamlessly blends into its own reflection. The seascapes of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto – black and white photographs taken in the 1980s and 1990s – provide perhaps the best comparison for Fredericks’ SALT series.

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SALT 101 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7


Murray Fredericks

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Sugimoto’s works are similarly devoid of focal points bar a precise horizon line, and also play exquisitely with light and exposure to achieve an extreme distillation of the photographic landscape. Works such as Seascape: Sea of Japan (1997) possess the same otherworldly qualities as Fredericks’ most-minimal works, and prompt us to contemplate the relationship between the physical and spiritual realms. The Lake Eyre environment is extreme not only in its isolation, but also its desolation. In 2007, Fredericks commented that, “It’s like a black hole. Nothing lives there. The area has been in drought since 1998. Even the desert vegetation is dead. The desert has taken over.” 7 Centuries of the cyclical drought and flood pattern has etched the ground; the crusted surface is so brilliantly captured by Fredericks in works such as SALT 300 and SALT 199, and could easily be confused for images of another world. Despite the drought conditions, Fredericks did have to contend with periodic thunderstorms, which in part provided inspiration for his more recent series, Hector. The chance of a thunderstorm while shooting at Lake Eyre would force Fredericks to move from the location.

Being the highest point on the Lake, and surrounded by metal poles and camera equipment, he described himself as “a one-man lightning attractor. It was terrifying. Lightning was smashing all around. That’s when you feel lonely. I crawled under a bush – like that would do anything – in my raincoat and just curled up in a ball.” 8 That Fredericks would put himself in such peril and through such arduous conditions – while underplaying the ‘adventure’ element of his work that so captivates people’s imaginations – is indicative of the singularity of his vision. While he may spend many weeks on location, his exacting standards mean he may only yield a handful of images with which he is truly happy. While he is largely self-taught, having initially studied studied politics and economics at Sydney University, Fredericks did ‘polish up’ his skills a number of years into his exhibiting career by undertaking firstly a Masters of Art, and then a Masters of Fine Art at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales. The SALT series commenced during Fredericks’ formal studies, and is in part a response to his experiences “...of always being told that everything has a meaning. This is my way of breaking that notion down, and simplifying it... choosing these places to work with communicates with the way that they eliminate the information and symbols we usually cling to.

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“In the end, what we see are not really places at all. We’re only looking at space. And whatever meaning these so-called places might have is inserted into them by the way the space is handled. Hopefully, the spaces in these images will open up to the viewers another space, a greater space, where they can insert their own meanings into the photographic moment.” 9 With Lake Eyre as his blank canvas, muse, and collaborator, Murray Fredericks has produced a series of works that are both an aesthetic triumph, and a conceptual challenge for the viewer. Possessing an almost painterly grandeur at times, they challenge conventional notions of landscape photography by not depicting ‘the landscape’ at all, rather an empty space, and more specifically, our reaction to being confronted by that infinite nothingness. Eric Nash Curator, Gallery Services

References 1

Landscape Architecture Australia, “Engagement, Lake Eyre”, May 2009, Essay by Murray Fredericks.

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Landscape Architecture Australia, “Engagement, Lake Eyre”, May 2009, Essay by Murray Fredericks.

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September 2011 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, “Visions, PhotoJournal, Murray Fredericks”, September 2011.

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June 2009 Photofile, “Meaning in the Void”, June 2009, Profile/Review, Ashley Crawford, Critic

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March 2010 Sydney Morning Herald, “Searching for Infinite Space in Extreme Locations”, March 2010 Profile Article, Garry Maddox, Arts Editor

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September 2011 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, “Visions, PhotoJournal, Murray Fredericks”, September 2011.

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November 2007 American Express Platinum Magazine, “To the Extremes”, November 2007, Profile Article, Mark Chipperfield.

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November 2011 WALL STREET JOURNAL, Arts and Culture, “Photo Show Focuses On Wide Open Spaces” 14th November 2011.

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August 2009 Eyemazing, “Meeting with Murray Fredericks, Salt” August 2009, Profile Article, Karl E Johnson.

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SALT 187 2007 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 129 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 110 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 104 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 300 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 250 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 112 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 8 2005 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 199 2007 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 88 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 108 2006 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 37 2005 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 18 2005 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 16 2005 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 303

2008

Digital pigment print on cotton rag 140 x 400 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 273 2011 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 203 2007 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 304

2009

Digital pigment print on cotton rag 110 x 320 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 235 2008 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 195 2007 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 30 2005 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 21 2005 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 120 x 150 cm Edition of 7

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SALT 400 2014 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 140 x 255 cm Edition of 7

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Murray Fredericks

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SALT 401

2014

Digital pigment print on cotton rag 140 x 310 cm Edition of 7

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Muybridge (SALT 500) 2015 Digital pigment print on cotton rag 140 x 186 cm Edition of 7

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SALT - The Salt Series (2016) | Murray Fredericks: Publication