Art, Greenspace January 23, 2012 By Jordan Sayle


Alberta Oil Sands #6
 Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2007/Edward Burtynsky Photography

filler29 Industrial Revelation     Dismaying as they can appear to be, Burtynsky’s photographs might also be looked upon as painterly depictions of landscapes, though often more in the vein of the Abstract Expressionists than the Hudson River School, it’s safe to say. From this perspective, there is an artistry evident in them that requires consideration of a different sort. When Burtynsky captures pictures of stockpiled pools of surplus sulfur at a tar sands extraction site in Alberta, Canada, it’s as if a Helen Frankenthaler canvas has been laid atop the oil fields. On occasion, one may even be tempted to use a word like beautiful when discussing such work, though the artist himself doesn’t embrace the label.
     “I have trouble with the word beauty, as I believe beauty is culturally specific,” says Burtynsky. “I believe my images cross cultural boundaries and fall into the category of ‘visually compelling,’ rather than beautiful. I believe that images can exist in a sort of collective consciousness where, if open to it, we recognize the symbols and meanings present in the work, regardless of cultural background.”
     Simply look to his most recent series, shots of croplands in the Monegros region of Spain as seen from above, and it’s clear that he’s headed in an even more textural, abstract direction. The photographs appear all the more like the canvases of painters, though he maintains that he is not “losing sight of the content that underpins all of [his] work.” This latest project is part of a more comprehensive look at encounters with water that has already involved photographing damage incurred after the Gulf oil spill.

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