This collection combines Ms Fowler-Smith’s 2018 solo exhibition of the Remarkable Trees of Paris and Versailles at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle with the Significant Trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, resulting in photographs that highlight the unique personality of the trees.
The Sophora de Chine, pictured, was an important tree to Marie Antoinette who planted it to commemorate the birth of her son, the Dauphin, son of Louis XV, Ms Fowler-Smith says. "According to legend, Marie Antoinette specifically asked for this tree to be planted near her bedroom window ... so that she could watch it grow at the same time as her son," she says.
Sophora de Chine, Parc du Petit Trianon à Versailles, France.
Extending her work from Paris to include significant trees in the Royal Botanic Garden, she investigates how different representations of trees can activate, change and contribute to creating new insights for environmental issues.
As an eco-artist, Ms Fowler-Smith believes that trees are crucial to life, that forests are the lungs of our planet and that trees produce the oxygen that we breathe, making them vital to our existence.
Trees have continuously provided humans with immediate and practical benefits earning trees a central place in a myriad of myths, rituals, and texts of religious importance, she says.
The Mairie de Paris categorises trees as ‘remarkable’ because of their age, uniqueness, morphology, identity or social role, Ms Fowler-Smith says. The Royal Botanic Gardens designate trees as significant due to their age, scientific significance, as well as being the ‘largest’, ‘oldest’ and ‘rarest’. Some were also planted by notable persons or are commemorative trees, giving them a social value, she says.
Through illumination and the transformational process of photographic art-making, this exhibition presents trees as iconic sentinels that are symbolic witnesses to cross-cultural narratives and histories, Ms Fowler-Smith says.
Critically, the works open up art-world discourses of the natural world to explore new ways of perceiving and contemplating the land, she says.
“My creative process is similar to that of a painter, whereby I layer or glaze light onto specially chosen trees, concentrating on their individual qualities or personality. Alone and in the quiet of the night in a variety of landscapes I ‘paint’ the light onto medium format film through long exposures, sometimes for nearly an hour,” says Ms Fowler-Smith.
Ms Fowler-Smith runs an eco-arts collective called The Tree Veneration Society Inc. that translates the historical, cross-cultural veneration of trees into a progressive contemporary community art project. The Society hopes to raise awareness about the importance of trees to the planet.
"I hope people can experience these trees the way I was able to experience them – [and be] deeply moved by their spectral presence at night," says Ms Fowler-Smith.