Art, Greenspace January 23, 2012 By Jordan Sayle


Densified Oil Filters # 1, 
Hamilton, Ontario 1997/Edward Burtynsky Photography

     With such environmental catastrophes unlikely to abate anytime soon in a world of increasing industrial activity, it’s also doubtful that Burtynsky will run out of subjects, as oddly unfortunate as that may be. In fact, that abundance was part of the appeal when he first decided to take on the transformation of landscapes as his life’s work. After making a wrong turn and coming upon excavations in a Pennsylvania coal town, he was first inspired to focus on such locations and realized that there was enough material out there of this sort to sustain him for his entire career. So far, he’s been right.
     Thankfully, in the years since that initial discovery, a few hopeful trends have also risen, such as recycling, which Burtynsky sees as a redemptive story to be told after decades of unmanaged industrial activity. The irony is that in contrast to many of his other subjects, mounds of salvaged tires or oil filters aren’t always so pretty to look at. As a concerned father, Burtynsky is intent on promoting solutions like recycling, and though he often insists that he lacks an explicit political agenda, he has no problem in expressing certain hopes where constructive dialogue is concerned.

“I want to use my images to persuade millions of people to join in the global conversation on sustainability,” he says.

     If the conversation is successful, his efforts will be a remarkable contribution to future generations. And if such a debate fails to bring meaningful results, thanks to Burtynsky those generations will still have photographic documentation of how it all went wrong.

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