Burtynsky is a Canadian artist best known for his monumental photographs of landscapes. His series Manufactured Landscapes (2003), challenging the ethics and aesthetics of human intervention in nature, was his international breakthrough. A new body of work, Water, is now being shown at NOMA, coinciding with a movie release, multiple gallery shows and a beautiful new publication Burtynsky – Water by Steidl.

The collaboration between Steidl and Burtynsky dates back to 2005 when the revered photobooks’ publisher released China, followed two years later by Quarries, then Oil (2009), and in August this year by Water. All books have the same large horizontal format and a premium look–and–feel. Burtynsky’s breathtaking color photographs, which are often taken from a bird’s–eye perspective, are reproduced with a such minutious exactness and attention to detail that the book gives you the real sense of the originals. For most of us it will be the closest we will get to having a Burtynsky at home.

Steidl published Water in collaboration with the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), with texts written by Wade Davis (explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society) and Russell Lord (curator at NOMA, where 60 photographs from the Water series are on display till January 2014). The book features over 100 full page color images divided thematically into 7 chapters, index with a thumbnail of each photo with practical information, plus a description of the 28 places in 10 different countries where the Water project photographs were shot over the last five years. This allows the reader to fully understand the artist’s narrative.

Similar to eg. the Oil series, the photographs are just a starting point for Burtynsky:

“While trying to accommodate the growing needs of an expanding – and very thirsty – civilization we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways. Over five years, I have explored water in various aspects; distress, control, agriculture, aquaculture, waterfront and source,” states Burtynsky. “We have to learn to think more long–term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it. 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.”

If you have a possibility to visit one of the exhibitions of the Water series (list of all locations is here), don’t miss it. We saw the one at Flowers Gallery and the photographs were captivating: a depiction of an Indian stepwell transforms into an abstract composition, the stormy waters from the Xiaolangdi Dam in China give the impression of a Turner painting and the oil spills from the Gulf of Mexico or the greenhouses from Almira in Spain are as much a social commentary as they are beautiful artworks.

Burtynsky – Water is available in the above mentioned galleries and online through Steidl. Hint: it would make a wonderful Christmas present.


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