Edward Burtynsky

About the Artist

Edward Burtynsky was born in St. Catherines, Ontario in 1955. His interest in photography began at an early age; he set up a  darkroomLight-tight room used for processing or printing photographic materials. (Artlex.com)  in the basement of the family home when he was only 11.

Burtynsky also had an early introduction to modern industrial activities. When he was still a teenager he worked at summer jobs in the motor vehicle plants in his hometown, and at age 20 he worked as an underground gold miner at a mine in northwestern Ontario. He studied Graphic Arts at Niagara College and received a Bachelor’s degree in Photography and Media Studies from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute in Toronto.

Early in his career Burtynsky made two trips to western Canada to focus his large-format view cameras on mines, railcuts and homesteads. You can see some examples of his railcut prints at the Flowers website. In his more recent work Burtynsky has examined other industrial activities such as quarrying, recycling,  oil refiningTo find out about oil refining, go to: How Stuff Works Wikipedia Chevron in Canada    and shipbreaking.

In a 2004 artist statement, Burtynsky stated:


Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work…I set a course to  intersectTo cut into one another; to meet and cross each other; as, the point where two lines intersect. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  with a  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (Artlex.com)  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.” (Burtynsky, 2004)


Burtynsky does not portray his subjects in a judgmental way, however. He notes that companies must decide whether or not to allow him onto their properties to take his photographs. Many companies agree, he suggests, because his images “…can be read in multiple ways. So you could have the same image in a boardroom and, frankly, the image could also be used for a poster campaign for an environmental group. … I try to place the work in that kind of  ambiguousAny idea that is not clearly stated within an art work, leaving lots of room for interpretation.  zone.” (Dixon, 2005)


[Burtynsky’s] photographs are not intended to alert us to the devastation caused by industry, nor are they meant to celebrate the achievements of technological progress. They serve to reconnect viewers to the aspects of manufacturing and technological production that are usually ignored or at least rarely considered. At the same time, those photographs challenge viewers to redefine their  conceptAn idea, thought, or notion conceived through mental activity. The words concept and conception are applied to mental formulations on a broad scale. (Artlex.com)  of what constitutes a landscape. (National Gallery of Canada media release, 2003)


Since 2000 Burtynsky has shifted his investigation of humankind’s impact on the land and its resources from North America to China. China is in the midst of a rapid transformation to a capitalist economy, reenacting the industrialization that took place in North America over the past two centuries, but on a  scaleThe proportion between two sets of dimensions.  never before attempted. “It’s like that moment in the U.S. in the thirties and forties when the Hoover Dam and all the roads and bridges were built,” Burtynsky explains. “Great expansion, fuelled by an abundance of cheap and willing labour.” (Milroy, 2005)

In 2005 Burtynsky became convinced that the evidence for human-caused  climate changeFind out what climate change is, and the implications of it at: David Suzuki Foundation Wikipedia Environment Canada   was persuasive, and that the threat is real. He supports a website called worldchanging.com, which examines environmental issues such as  sustainabilityUsually used with regards to the environment, sustainability means the ability to sustain, support, maintain the natural environment, the climate, ecological systems, etc.  To read about sustainability, go to Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability.  and climate change.

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