No one has framed ecological ruin with the visual poetry and staggering scale of Edward Burtynsky’s images. The Toronto-based photographer is world-renowned for rendering epic landscapes with scientific precision and painterly abstraction—large-format pictures that confound the eye with a simultaneous impression of beauty and horror.
Water is Burtynsky’s most ambitious project to date. Spanning five years and 10 countries, it documents the devastating impact that manufacturing, consumption and development have had on the world’s water resources. Burtynsky has photographed the virgin gorges of B.C.’s Stikine River and the dry beds of the Colorado River Delta; the mega-dam construction on the upper Yangtze and the annual silt release on China’s Yellow River; masses of pilgrims bathing in the Ganges and the irrigation systems that drain the water table of America’s breadbasket.
The project is a multimedia venture that includes a book, a film and gallery exhibits in nine cities, from Toronto and New York to London and Singapore. Water, the photographer’s fifth book, is being published in tandem with the Toronto International Film Festival’s premiere of Watermark, a documentary feature he co-directed with Jennifer Baichwal, who worked with him on the award-winning Manufactured Landscapes. “My hope,” says Burtynsky, “is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival, something we often take for granted—until it’s gone.”