News & Press

If You Drink Water (Or Want To In The Future) You Should See This Ed Burtynsky Photo Exhibit

By Jonathan Keats | Forbes

This review originally appeared on Forbes.com

As a student at Toronto's Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in the '80s, Edward Burtynsky got the assignment of a lifetime. "Go out and photograph evidence of man," his instructor told him. Reflecting on the experience in a magazine interview thirty years later, Burtynsky observed that the task gave him "the license to be an alien within my own culture."

Over those three decades, Burtynsky has construed his culture ever more broadly, traveling to dozens of countries with his camera, observing the boundless ways in which humans alter their environment. With his spectacular large-format color photography, he has surveyed quarries and tailings, and examined the impact of oil from the wells of Azerbaijan to the freeways of Los Angeles to the seaside shipbreaking facilities in Bangladesh. However his latest project, currently on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art, is arguably the most challenging from the standpoint of seeing the world as an alien, because his subject is the very essence of human existence: Over the past five years, he has photographed water.

The theme is beguilingly, exasperatingly broad. There are pictures of dams in China, housing developments in Arizona, phosphorous mines in Florida, the Ganges in India. He has photographed a geothermal power station in Mexico and dryland farms in Spain. There are reservoirs, dikes, wetlands, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In this profusion of images, his topic is elusive as perhaps it should be. Water is all around us, and within us too, so ubiquitous that it becomes invisible until its absence is noticed.

As climate change makes rainfall increasingly erratic, and industry drains aquifers and poisons wells, water's absence is being felt (and written about in books such as David L. Sedlak's formidable new Water 4.0). But encounters with water's troubled future is still mostly local. Burtynsky's sprawling photo essay brings together a multiplicity of locales, presenting a world of evidence that each viewer must personally navigate.

related

How the Art of Social Practice Is Changing the World, One Row House at a Time

From April 7th, 2014 read more

Getting the Lead Out: Mel Chin

From April 1st, 2014 read more

St. Francisville home's parlor to become NOMA exhibit

From March 31st, 2014 read more

Entrepreneur Week spotlights New Orleans as a hub for 3D printing art, food, ceramics, oil industry parts, biotissues

From March 27th, 2014 read more

related exhibitions