There are seven enormous images of dead river red gums in Jane Burton's newly-commissioned photographic exhibition The Sunken Garden.
Rising from the drought-ebbed waters of a reservoir, the trees are hundreds of years old, the skeletal remnants of what was a forest lining the edges of a creek dammed and flooded in 1960.
Their huge trunks and remaining limbs are testament to the enduring stamina of the timber, but also to the loss of the environment which surrounded them and its ecology.
Jane Burton is a photographic artist currently living and working in Melbourne. In a career of almost 30 years her depictions of the female body, brooding landscapes, derelict architectures and abandoned interiors have been recognised as work of the highest order.
Burton was awarded the Lloyd Rees Travelling Scholarship in 1993 and undertook a four-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris; she has been the recipient of a residency in London through the Visual Arts/Craft Board of the Australia Council in 2005; and an Arts Development Grant through Arts Victoria in 2003. She has also had a residency in Beijing.
Her work is represented in the the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria, ArtBank, The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle Regional Gallery, The Monash Gallery of Art and the Australia Post Collection as well as private collections.
In her new series of large Type-C photographs Burton explored the Ballarat region She found herself drawn to the large reservoir, where the long-dead trees entered her subconscious.
"I'm often chasing a feeling, a means to create a life in my world, to bring something to life by assembling pictures," Burton says.
"Often it's been a model, a woman - putting her in a location. Whereas this time, because this location was shown to me, and it's such an exceptional pace, a special place, I was quite besotted with it. It overtook me, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it."
Burton describes the place where she took the images as 'a hidden place that one must walk into for some distance, crossing a kind of psychic threshold.' While the water is accessible to the public, entry to the land had to be negotiated.
To be in that particular place, at once wide-open and then quite intimate and tucked away, remote and isolated - it has a haunted quality. That vast expanse of water and then the barren land mass on the other side - it's like a stage set.Jane Burton
The scenario moved her profoundly, giving her feeling of both euphoria and melancholy, connecting with the Romantic longing and sense of loss which have been at the core of her work for some time.
"Photographing nature is a way for me to visually convey the poetry of the inner experience and spiritual longing, in the shadow of our mortality," Burton says.
"Having the opportunity to visit a place many times over and watch the changes in climate, in landscape; the bird life, the clouds, the sky; the wind, the light, the moon - it was like I was bearing witness, that I was in the service of nature.
"I was in the service of what was before me, which is unusual because I don't usually work that way."
Burton says working in this manner meant she spent a lot of time in the landscape observing.
"To be in that particular place, at once wide-open and then quite intimate and tucked away, remote and isolated - it has a haunted quality. That vast expanse of water and then the barren land mass on the other side - it's like a stage set."
Burton saw the landscape as a constantly moving stage-set, epic in its scale and the elements at play.
"From the first I saw it like a surrealist painting," she says.
"It was like it was by Salvador Dali, or some of the incredible paintings by the German Romantics, where stark mountains and trees have these vast horizons, and are very theatrical. It felt real and unreal at the same time.
"Those gigantic remnants of trees being revealed have a strong symbolic energy. The returned, the revenant; these beautiful trees that were grand, were great trees; and were killed, drowned, when the reservoir was made. But in a drought they have come back, and in death they are beautiful.
"These trees are like petrified or fossilised remains; expressive of their pain and beauty and mortality. Their limbs like bones worn clean by the elements, it seemed that I was standing in a cemetery, where once great trees had perished in stricken and mournful postures, that I had passed into a mythical underworld, a realm between earth and water and sky.
"It's like a dream location, and like being in a dream; because it's half-natural and half man-altered. It's a hybrid and it's a trompe l'oeil, and where the two join is quite surreal. It's a readymade stage where these trees are the characters."
Burton's latest work was commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ballarat and will be on show at the gallery as part of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2019, which open on August 23.
Gallery director Louise Tegart said she had followed Jane Burton's career for many years and was excited to have a chance to both commission and exhibit her work.
"This year with the Foto Biennale I wanted the Gallery to be a part of it, to curate our own shows and not just be a venue. That was a perfect opportunity to work with Jane, so I contacted her, really with an open-ended brief, and it's been a fantastic result in that we have works depicting the area around Ballarat; we can showcase Ballarat to a huge audience," Tegart says.
"While I've never worked with her, I've seen her work, loved it and always followed what she is doing.
"It is very stimulating to see the familiar places around Ballarat seen through a different lens. The gallery is committed to showcasing Ballarat and its artists as well as introducing new perspectives which Burton does in an striking manner.
"Burton has taken an apparently ordinary scene of a dam with low water levels and found something extraordinary in it - a dark and brooding scene of loss and devastation. These photographs bring Burton's unique Gothic vision to an apparently prosaic and familiar scene."
Jane Burton: The sunken garden
24 August-27 October 2019
Art Gallery of Ballarat
Part of Ballarat International Foto Biennale