—Artist takes advantage of emerging technology to create large-scale photographs depicting the complex relationship between human beings and our most vital natural resource
Explore humanity’s complicated relationship with our most precious natural resource through the lens of internationally renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky. The Chrysler Museum of Art’s winter/spring keynote exhibition, Edward Burtynsky: Water, includes more than 60 large-scale color photographs that form a global portrait of the intricate intersections of humanity and our most precious natural resource. The exhibition, organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art, will open to the public on Feb. 12 and run through May 15. Admission is free.
In his work, Burtynsky takes full advantage of recent technological changes in photography, which allow him to create massive images, several feet tall and wide. His photos engulf the viewer with stunning vistas in incredible detail. These images — part photograph, part abstraction, and part anthropological treatise — transform the viewers’ experience and challenge their senses to comprehend what is shown in the frame.
“Edward Burtynsky harnesses the advances in digital photography to create high-tech images reminiscent of the modern masters that he so admires, artists such as Jean Dubuffet, David Shapiro, Casper David Friedrich, and Richard Diebenkorn,” Chrysler Museum Director Erik Neil says. “Just as those painters had an affinity for landscapes, Burtynsky explores abstract art with aerial photographs that minimize detail and context to create massive images that defy description.”
Other images concisely tell a story or show a clear cause-and-effect relationship. “The beautiful thing about Burtynsky is that you can enjoy his work however you want—as environmental messages, as narrative tales, or simply as arresting and overpowering works of art,” Neil says.
Five years in the making, Water is Burtynsky’s most detailed and expansive project to date. The show includes images of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, step-wells in India, dam construction in China, Asian aquaculture, and North American and European farming and pivot irrigation systems. It also features some of the first pure landscapes that Burtynsky has made since the early 1980s. These archaic, almost primordial-looking images of British Columbia, place the structures of water control in a historical context, tracing the story of water from the ancient to the modern and back again.
While the story of water is certainly an ecological one, the photographer is more interested in presenting the facts on the ground than in declaring society’s motives as being good or bad. In focusing on all the facets of people’s relationship with water, including ritual and leisure uses, he offers evidence without an argument. This is a signature of all his series of chromogenic prints, each of which builds upon his previous work and photographic explorations. “Burtynsky’s work functions as an open-ended question about humanity’s past, present and future,” says Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art and organizer of the traveling exhibition. “The big question is: do these pictures represent the achievement of humanity or one of its greatest faults, or both? Each visitor might find a different answer in this exhibition depending upon what they bring to it.”
Edward Burtynsky: Water is on view February 12–May 15, 2016 at the Chrysler Museum of Art. Admission is free.
For more information, see edwardburtynsky.com.
For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.