Edward Burtynsky and his photographs

Edward Burtynsky, the renowned Canadian photographer has been taking pictures of  man-made landscapes for more than 30 years.  His photographs are massive prints of 40×50 inches, capturing the large-scale of human foot print left by industrial activity of past hundred years.  Burtynsky is an artist whose work displays majestic beauty with technical sophistication.  He is often described as an environmental photographer but his office in Toronto refused to so narrowly categorize his work.  On the other hand Burtynsky, himself reflects that over the years he has become more vocal, not just an image maker but an artist with a voice. (Smith, 2007)

His first major work consisted of large photographs of rail road cuts scarring the mountain sides of Canadian northwest.  In these pictures you can see how Burtynsky begins to capture the intrusion and violence of technology on natural landscape.  His later works of open mine pits, tailings, quarries, ships dismembered and cannibalized in Bangladesh, abandoned oils rigs in Baku, urban mines of discarded industrial output in China and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continue to highlight the altered landscape by human hand.

Burtynsky observed that:

looking up at skyscrapers… For things on this scale …there has to be something equally monumental in the landscape where we have taken all this material from … Newtonian law implied a reciprocal action … a hole in the ground that meets the scale of the  … skyscraper … and my task was  … to see what the residual world looked like (2003).

Burtynsky’s use of large color patches from his photographs of tailings in British Columbia, and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico has drawn comparisons to the work of Post-Impressionist artists  such as the Fauves and the Group of Seven from Canada.  On the other hand the dark lines of deep rail road cuts in mountain sides and complex planes of dry farming in Spain evokes the work of Paul Klee and cubist artists. These illusions to historical art movements bespeaks of the artistry of Burtynsky’s visualization of human landscape.

Following links are to his work on different photographic blogs and sites.




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