MAGAZINE // ARTISTS

MAN MADE LANDSCAPES

EDWARD BURTYNSKY

A THIRST THAT MUST BE QUENCHED

"I wanted to understand water: what it is, and what it leaves behind when we're gone. I wanted to understand our use and misuse of it. I wanted to trace the evidence of global thirst and threatened sources."

Burtynsky is not your average landscape photographer, his work is not celebratory, it is not the untouched raw beauty of peaceful lakes and snow capped mountains. He instead photographs landscapes, conquered and savaged by a thirsty civilization. His subject is not nature but rather what we have done to nature and the result we think is a perfect juxtaposition, both beautiful and monstrous at the same time.

Burtynsky’s journey began In Pennsylvania when he took a wrong turn and found himself in a surface coal mining town called Frackville. after miles of driving he stepped out of his car, realising he was parked on a man made hill and his 360 degree periphery was infinite miles of totally transformed man made landscapes. He began taking pictures and that was when Burtynsky became not a landscape photographer but a photographer of human systems imposed on the land.

BURTYNSKY SPENT 3 YEARS DOCUMENTING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH WATER, HIS JOURNEY AND RESEARCH SPANNED OVER 10 COUNTRIES WHERE HE EXPLORED 20 DIFFERENT STORIES.

"The project takes us over gouged landscapes, fractal patterned delta regions, ominously coloured biomorphic shapes, rigid and rectilinear stepwells, massive circular pivot irrigation plots, aquaculture and social, cultural and ritual gatherings. Water is intermittently introduced as a victim, a partner, a protagonist, a lure, a source, an end, a threat and a pleasure. Water is also often completely absent from the pictures. Burtynsky instead focuses on the visual and physical effects of the lack of water, giving its absence an even more powerful presence."

Russell Lord - Curator of Photographs - NOMA

His process is intense doing months of research before taking a single photograph. After he presses that button he goes through multiple drafts of his work looking for light, colour and exposure. Insuring he has each part perfect

“These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

Burtynsky’s images force the viewer to think of the long term consequences of what man-kind doing to our planet. How rapidly reshaping it on such a vast scale we are all the while engineering our own demise as a species.