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On man and water: a visual homage by Edward Burtynsky

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The Canadian photographer known for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes unveils a new project dubbed “Water.” The work of award-winning photographer Edward Burtynsky has begun showing in seven galleries across six cities and three countries, in a global exhibition of his images depicting the relationship of civilization and water.

His touring exhibition comes alongside the publication of a handsome 228-page hardcover book published by Steidl. An iPad app is also available, presenting an additional interactive presentation showing images and maps of the locations where the photos were created.

In the book, Burtynsky explores how man uses and wastes one of the earth’s most important resources. Often using a bird’s eye perspective, Burtynsky’s images show compromised landscapes and the transformation and evolution of how man uses this resource.

Because of the perspective he chose for the creation of the images, the viewer is engulfed — and dwarfed — by the vastness of nature and its landscape. In his photos of the BP oil spill, the blending of oil and water easily take over most of the frame; the little manmade figures seem utterly small in comparison. More than the play on scale, Burtynsky’s photos are aesthetically interesting: the composition and use of colors, capturing patterns, oil swirls on water surfaces. His images seem to find something seductively beautiful in the destructive.

The “Water” project also explores the changing landscape of water and man’s relation to it in a variety of ways. Sorted into categories like “Distressed,” “Control,” “Agriculture,” “Aquaculture,” “Waterfront,” and “Source,” Burtynsky traces how man used and harnessed water as a resource through the building of dams and canals.

Russell Lord, Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art, says of Burtynsky’s “Water” project:

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 focusses on the visual and physical effects of the lack of water, giving its absence an even more powerful presence.

Burtynsky’s body of work shows landscapes altered by industrial work, often at odds with the natural environments: recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries, among others. He describes his work as an exploration of the residual landscape, to create images meant to serve as metaphors to “the dilemma of the modern existence…a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear.”

More than a message on man’s use of water, his images are a stunning showcase of the beauty of nature — even as they are increasingly affected by human activity.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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