In 2017, Hamiltons presented Salt: Vanity, an exhibition of the most recent work by Australian photographer Murray Fredericks. The Vanity series is a continuation of Fredericks’ renowned Salt series, previously exhibited at Hamiltons in Salt, 2007, Salt II, 2009 and Recent Work, 2014 – 2015. In this next cycle of the project, Fredericks introduces a mirror into the previously undisturbed landscape.
Australian photographer Murray Fredericks’ long relationship with Lake Eyre, where his most recent series Vanity has been produced, commenced in 2003, and to date consists of twenty journeys to the centre of the lake where he photographs for weeks at a time in the vast and infinite landscape. Fredericks is not interested in documenting the literal forms of the landscape. He views the landscape as medium in itself which, when represented in a photograph, has the potential to convey the emotional quality of his experience and relationship to the lake.
Fredericks’ relationship to this project stems from his initial visit to a salt lake in 2001 where late one night he wandered away from his campsite and stopped for some time. Standing alone in the darkness he became aware that the boundary between his physical body and the environment he stood within seemed to soften and become less defined. Fredericks experienced an unfamiliar, powerful sensation of calm and eventually a release from the ever-present anxieties that seem to be inherent to the human condition. In that moment, Fredericks felt a connection to something that seemed to exist beyond his conscious mind. The memory of that experience stayed with Fredericks and defined his pursuit of landscape imagery.
“The mirror can be seen as emblematic of our obsession with ourselves, individually, and collectively. In the ‘Vanity’ series, rather than reflecting our own ‘surface’ image, the mirror is positioned to draw our gaze out and away from ourselves, into the environment, driving us towards an emotional engagement with light, colour and space.”
Fredericks employs a serial approach in the Salt project. All photographs are composed with an unbroken horizon placed in the lower third of the frame to be faithful to the intense experience of endless space that exists out in that landscape. In the soft light of dawn and dusk, Lake Eyre with an inch of salt-laden water reflecting the sky, gives Fredericks momentary access to something else; the possibility of being able to ‘step outside’ of himself, if only for a moment. Just as a significant thought or realisation can appear in a quiet mind as if from nowhere during meditation, so too, in the middle of Lake Eyre, Fredericks sees a parallel emptiness in the landscape where occasionally an image presents itself out of nothing. It is possibly the most ‘empty’ landscape imaginable and logically, there should be little there to shoot. However, after every trip, thoughts of new possibilities and new ways to represent the experience of being in that vast expanse in solitude come to Fredericks and he felt compelled to return and act on them, this time accompanied by a large mirror which Fredericks painstakingly carried himself.
“In these images I find my own, flawed, search for a kind of perfection. Perhaps it is a search driven by my own anxieties or vain attempt to escape the human condition. Standing in the silken water, surrounded only by a boundless horizon, I sense a release, a surrendering as the self dissolves into the light and space.”
With the mirror being the symbol of narcissism, and vanity its driving force, Fredericks considered that the mirror be used not to reflect ‘ourselves’ and petty obsessions, but to draw the gaze outwards to the immediate environment and the cosmos; poignant given our position as humans in our current social context. Fredericks believes that it is the inherent vanity and obsession with individualism that carries humankind headlong into the Anthropocene era. The Vanity series is an escape from and rejection of this, focusing on the power and importance of nature, where Fredericks’ mirrors act like a portal to ‘something else’. The works in Vanity offer no prioritised place for humankind in either scale or functionality; the vastness and scale of the lake make humans seem insignificant. “If, as some would suggest, the Anthropocene presents an existential threat to life as we know it, it is because as the word ‘Vanity’ makes clear, it’s focus (our gaze) is placed wholly on humankind.”
Consistent with his earlier Salt pictures, the images from the Vanity series allow us access to Fredericks’ sublime experience. Through their infinite variations of colour and light, the pictures award the viewer the freedom and meditative space Murray finds essential for our release from our own vanity.
Fredericks has exhibited internationally in both individual and group exhibitions; his work is held in the collections of The Museum of Sydney; National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; Sir Elton John Collection, London; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Valentino Collection; ABN Amro Collection amongst others. Fredericks has produced two documentaries; the multi award winning and widely acclaimed Salt, and more recently Nothing on Earth, filmed in Greenland whilst producing Topophilia. Fredericks has also made a short film for this series, Vanity.