Edward Burtynsky is one of Canada’s most world-renown and respected photographers. His work is housed in many collections across the world, including: The National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California. Burtynsky’s aim in his work is to explore the intricate link between industry and nature, “combining the raw elements of mining, quarrying, manufacturing, shipping, oil production and recycling.” In his work, he depicts the meeting of industries such as these with nature. For example, he has had exhibitions and publications on subject of the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. These images not only show us, as the viewers, of what happened during this event, but also manage to bring an eerie sense of beauty in the image. (It’s not his goal to make a beautiful image out of it, that’s mostly just my opinion, which I believe is more understandable upon viewing the image below).
Burtynsky’s early exposure to the type of photographic work he is famous for was the local General Motors sites near his hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario, which he photographed at a relatively young age. Nowadays he does many different lectures and talks about his work and the related environmental issues around the world. One site that he has presented on includes Ted Talks, where he talks about his photographs of the Landscape of Oil.
Instead of trying to paraphrase his artist statement, I believe that it is a lot stronger of an image, if you read it from the words he speaks himself, so I’m going to insert it for you to really understand his intent in his photography:
Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.
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.
One of the issues he covers in his photographic work, that I find very interesting, and related to this class was his collection of Urban Mines. Under this category he includes images of metal recycling yards, and tire yards. The amount of both of these items in the given space is absolutely huge! The tire images, in particular really show the extravagance of just how many car tires are deposited in ‘junk yards’ even within our own country, (his particular work coming from California)
A last project by him that I’ll share is one of his many that takes place in China. This particular project is on China and it’s forms of recycling. There is a large artist statement that goes along with this alone, explaining China’s recycling procedure. Put short, China is really advanced in their amount of recycling on a worldwide level. Part of the reason for this is that many people use recyclable materials to barter and trade with each other for an individual’s various needs. Although, admittedly, many of the forms and systems of recycling are primitive at this time, they are at least something. It is guessed that these recycling ‘collectors’ can make as much as $190 US dollars on recycling alone each month.