Canadian documentary photographer and filmmaker Edward Burtynsky has dedicated a large portion of his life to examining man's impact on the natural environment through the camera lens.Read More
Born to Ukrainian parents in Toronto in 1955, the General Motors plant in his hometown provided early inspiration for the development of his photographic process, eclipsing the homages to 19th-century landscape photographers seen in his early works of the early 1980s.
Graduating with a BAA in Photography and Media Studies from Ryerson University in 1982, in 1985 Burtynsky founded Toronto Image Works (TIW). Burtynsky runs TIW—a combined specialist photo laboratory and computer training centre for digital imaging and new media—in conjunction with and alongside his own developing photographic practice.
Over several decades, Burtynsky has diligently and objectively documented industrial landscapes across the globe, including China's industrial heartland, Bangladesh's shipbreaking yards, Australia's mines, Italy's marble quarries, Gujarat's salt pans, and Texan oil fields.
Neither condemning nor assuaging, the even-handed tone of his works navigates the nuances of beauty and ugliness, right and wrong, morality and necessity.
An early example of this can be found in his 'Tailings' (1995–1996) series, where the fauvist aesthetic appeal of the visual anomaly of bright orange rivers spanning blackened and brown muddy landscapes, clashes with the uncomfortable reality of ecological devastation caused by chemical pollution from metal mining and smelting.
Edward Burtynsky's largest and most ambitious photographic projects include 'OIL' (1999–2010), 'CHINA' (2002–2005), and 'WATER' (2010–2013), each presenting focused, yet global surveys, opening opportunities for discussion on the social and ecological implications of the industries that underlie modern human society.
The culmination of Burtynsky's practice has been The Anthropocene Project (2015–ongoing), a multi-disciplinary work examining humanity's mass-scale alteration of the face of the planet. Among other things, the project produced the third of three award-winning feature-length documentaries by Burtynsky, on the topic of humanity's complex relationship with nature.
Burtynsky's documentary filmmaking and photography have garnered international attention, featuring in major museum collections worldwide, including the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, London's Victoria and Albert Museum and Tate Modern, and the National Gallery of Canada.
The artist has received multiple prestigious awards, including a TED Prize, the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, the title of Officer of the Order of Canada, ICP Infinity Award for Art (2008), Photo London's Master of Photography (2018), the Lucie Award for Achievement in Documentary Photography, and eight honorary degrees.
Garnering public commissions, too, in 2014 Burtynsky was tasked with producing six images of holocaust sites across Eastern Europe for the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, Canada. In line with his core subject, the artist presents a scarred landscape, albeit one with invisible emotional scars; there are uncomfortable connotations to industrial efficiency.
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