Climate Change Seen From Above in Diane Burko’s Photographs

Artsy Editorial
Oct 14, 2014 5:58PM

Through a dynamic practice that weaves together painting and photography, Diane Burko develops works that give visual weight to the effects of climate change. Documenting sites such as the Grand Canyon, volcanoes in Alaska, and now, melting glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland, she captures epic views of geographical terrains as they shift, erupt, and transform. In her new exhibition at LewAllen Galleries, entitled “Diane Burko: Investigations of the Environment,” Burko foregrounds photographs from her most recent artistic expeditions, many of which are taken from spectacular aerial perspectives.

As the artist has explained, her camera was initially “a reference tool for [her] large-scale paintings,” but grew to become an important form of expression in and of itself. The beauty of Burko’s photographs is that she translates complex scientific data about recent geological events into palatable visual information for a broad audience.

Diane Burko, “Over Montana Glacier National Park 4” (2013) and “Crevasse Surge 1” (2013), courtesy LewAllen Galleries.


Burko subverts traditional categories of documentary photography and 19th century plein-air painting by taking on extreme vantage points, often aerial views taken from a helicopter.  In the photograph Over Montana Glacier National Park 4 (2013), teal aqueous regions wrap around a snow-laced rockbank and lick perniciously at its edges. As the snow melts away, a topographic pattern is revealed, suggesting the fragility of the glacial forms and the vulnerability of polar terrains on a planet experiencing dramatic climate change. The images invoke a sense of urgency and raise a call to action to protect these beautiful forms from eventual obliteration.

Diane Burko, “Antartica Grid” (2013) and “Kronebreen: Above 2” (2013), courtesy LewAllen Galleries.

In Antarctica Grid (2013), 20 square photographs are presented in a cluster forming a sort of archipelago—a fitting composition for a series of images of fragmented ice shards. This dramatic narrative is amplified by the striking color contrast between the gleaming white snow blocks and the deep blue waters that envelop them. Burko imbues her work with a particular poetic lyricism that conveys a profound sense of mourning and loss, resulting in a compelling body of work focused on the passage of  time and the need to address the threats of climate change.

Anna Furman

Diane Burko: Investigations of the Environment” is on view at LewAllen Galleries, Santa Fe, Sept. 26-Nov. 2nd, 2014.

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Artsy Editorial