Over the last weekend, while channel surfing, I ended up watching the last two-thirds of a documentary titled: Salt. It was being shown on the PBS Channel World as part of the POV series.
The documentary concerns the adventures of a solo bicyclist/photographer on a salt flat–Lake Eyre–in southern Australia. According to an article by Mark Chipperfield in American Express’ Platinum (Nov 2007):
By [Murray Fredericks’] own admission, documenting the nuances of light and space in one the world’s harshest environments has taken its toll on his health. Each year he spends five weeks camping alone on Lake Eyre–but the operation means ferrying camera equipment, batteries, food and water using a bicycle and a trailer.
“Between the edge of the lake and the salt pan itself is a section of waterlogged ground. This year  it took two days to get all my stuff on the salt. Then I need to resupply every seven days, which means coming back over the mud. The physical exertion nearly killed me.”
I’m also fascinated by salt flats, but I’m not sure I’m prepared to spend multiple, 5-week solo expeditions on one. Since I live in Utah, I’ve driven across the Bonneville Salt Flats more times than I can remember and enjoy spending short vacations in the West Desert. About 20 years ago, I was on the northern end of the Altiplano in Bolivia. I remember reading about the salt lakes and pans in the southern end of this high South American plain (over 10,000 feet above sea level).
Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Uganda. And in western Uganda, near Queen Elizabeth National Park, there is a important salt lake/flat (Lake Kitwa). Historically, salt has been an important exchange commodity in Africa. After retirement, I would love to spend time wandering around the salt flats on the southern Altiplano and in western Uganda.
. . . The idea of Lake Eyre came to him during a trip to South America [Altiplano?]. “I had this experience of standing on a salt plan alone at night,” he recalls. “And that experience, that feeling, wouldn’t go away When I heard about Lake Eyre I wondered if I could make a body of [photographic] work out of the pure emptiness–there’s a lovely link there with the mind, and what happens when you empty your mind.
The amalgamation of Zen philosophy, technical prowess, commercial acumen and robust individualism is what makes Fredericks so unusual and, in part, explains the billiance of his Lake Eyre pictures. . .
Watching Salt on POV was a very intriguing experience. I loved watching it, and the photographs and videofootage are eerie, beautiful, and in some cases almost terrifying. They have an existential quality.
But art/documentary narrative is a dicey business. To a civil engineer, much of it sounds like buffoonery. Fads come and fads go, but most critics and commentators tend to survive on bullshit. Having said that, Fredericks’ haunting images of Lake Eyre will endure, but much of dialogue in the documentary sounds like new-age nonsense. But this in noway deters from the images in Salt and the photographer’s effort.