How Edward Burtynsky’s TED Talk Wish Has Come True

In his 2006 TED Talk, Edward Burtynsky made a wish that his sobering, scarred landscapes could incite a global conversation about sustainability—and this fall, with the release of a new book, a new film, an iPad app, and two concurrent Chelsea gallery shows all on the subject of water, it seems he’s found a way to get people talking.

In the past, Burtynsky has taken his large-format camera to industrial refineries, ship-breaking yards, factories, and coal mines, capturing red glowing rivers filled with oxidized iron or cast-aside piles of tires or telephones. Despite the tragedy of these landscapes, each print is luscious, sublime, and strangely romantic. “It’s that forbidden pleasure,” he’s said of the works’ allure. “It gets people to look at these things, it gets people to enter.”

And he’s right. Burtynsky starts his conversations with seductive photographs, like the ones that fill both Bryce Wolkowitz and Howard Greenberg galleries in New York City, luring the viewer, drunkenly, to the topic of water and humanity’s relationship with our most vital natural resource. Dramatic and colossal large-format prints document five years and ten countries; on board helicopters and small fixed-wing airplanes, Burtynsky has captured the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, dry-land farming in Spain, bathers in the sacred Ganges River in India, pivot irrigation sites in Texas, and riverbed erosion in Iceland—all visually stunning and masquerading a plea to examine our impact on the planet with bird’s-eye abstractions.

“We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it,” Burtynsky said of his Water project. “My hope 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.”

“Edward Burtynsky: Water” is on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and Howard Greenberg Gallery through November 2nd, 2013.

Later this month, look for Burtynsky at Art Toronto 2013.

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