At 2530km, the Murray River is Australia’s longest waterway, meandering through the country from the Snowy Mountains to the Southern Ocean. Over the many decades since European settlement, the river has become a wrought system of dams, weirs and channels that have restricted and politicized its flow. Melbourne-based photographer Daniel Boetker-Smith combines portraits, still-lifes and landscapes to create The Murray River Project, a modern-day compendium of stories found along the Murray, journeying into environmental and social landscapes that stretch along it. Employing strategies of chronological anarchy, the project’s unfolding narrative is a poignant cue for storytelling that is non-linear and multi-layered—like life, like memory, or like the river.
Rather than forming one conclusive narrative, the Murray images speak to each other, posing quiet questions. What does the young male see behind closed eyes? Did he go fishing by the river with his father, whom he lost? The book on English, to whom does it belong? Or better still what have they left behind, and what have they found? With an unerring eye for detail, Boetker-Smith lets us discover—with slight unease—a realm of history, identity and possibility. His images, at once interrogative and reflexive, prevent us from arriving, for the only destination is within. If we get lost, it doesn’t matter. So we are bound to depart—from nature, youth, a country, a language, the world. That fallen yellow fruit might well be poisonous. Boetker-Smith presents us with a puzzle, and the arrangements, those we may make ourselves.
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