The Unforgiving Beauty of the South Australian Desert

Words and photos by Matthew Thorne

The South Australian desert is a mystical place—millennia ago it was an ocean, and opalised aquatic dinosaur fossils are still found in the dirt there today.

It is home to an arid land, and deep, old magic. A land of endless sweeping salt flats, and undulating flat red earth. This is where the frontier is, and the last of the great Australian frontiersmen call it home.

My series, The Sand That Ate the Sea, was shot sporadically over the course of six months with the community in the mid-northern desert of Australia, photographed predominantly on a 120mm Hasselblad 500cm and 35mm Olympus Om1-n.

The images were taken in tandem with the making of a mythic film I wrote and directed in the town. It attempts to capture this unspoken magic of the Australian land and its impact on the people who live there. The town has a great conflict within it—a conflict between the hard, realism of the working man’s world (and the unforgiving climate of their surrounds), and the enduring magic of the endless horizon of the red Australian dirt.

I have found that my work, quite unintentionally, is often focused around people and land. And in my travels and practice, I feel I have always been exposed to this truth, that it is not us who work upon the land—changing it and shaping it—but the land that works upon us, moulding us into people in its image. We are a reflection of the land itself, the chaotic heat and vast stillness of the Australian desert is within us, forcing us to feel time in a different manner. Slowing our lives, and shaping our form. I like to think that this collection of images are an expression of that.

See more from Matthew Thorne on his website right here.

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