New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 42 October 30 to November 5, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Master of the Large-Scale Print
Edward Burtynsky
Ed Barnas

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: Edward Burtynsky, "Xiaolangdi Dam #3, Yellow River, Henan Province, China" 2011

Edward Burtynsky is a master of the large-scale print of the large-scale subject. Looking back at his various series over the past decades, from the early landscapes through railcuts, mine & quarries, and oil, it appears that he is moving progressively further back and higher up, encompassing more and more in the image, capturing the large scale of human impact on the planet but reducing the individual presence, if visible at all, to a speck.

His latest series, Water, continues his exploration of the manufactured landscape. The two-dozen chromogenic prints on display at Howard Greenberg are large, ranging from 39 x 52 to 48 x 64 (plus a 26 x 96 panorama). Exposed from 2009 to the present, all are rich in color and sharp in detail, inviting the viewer to simply stand back and take it all in or come close and inspect them minutely. Water, or its lack, is the prime subject, but the treatment varies throughout the prints on display<picture

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: Edward Burtynsky, "Glacial Runoff #1, Skeidararsandur, Iceland" 2012

A few images appear to be taken straight on (the mass of the dam on the Yangtze recalling Bourke-White’s image of the Fort Peck dam; the swirling spray by the dam on the Yellow River suggestive of a Chinese landscape brush painting). However, the majority are images looking down from above, very, very high above. Some are traditional aerial images and offer a visibly didactic comment on water use policies (the 2011 image of the arid Navajo Reservation abutting a green suburb of Phoenix). Others bridge the space between recognizable aerial views and pleasing design (salterns in the Gulf of California, rice terraces in China, pivot irrigation in Arizona).

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: Edward Burtynsky, "Stepwell #2, Panna Meena, Amber, Rajasthan, India" 2010

When Burtynsky adopts a more perpendicular viewpoint, the result is an almost pure visual pleasure that transcends the titular subject matter and brings to mind abstract art more than informational content. The Thjorsa River in Iceland reminds me of abstract expressionism while the images of stepwells in India call Escher to mind (as does the symmetry of glacial runoff in Iceland and a sewage treatment plant in London). A pivot irrigation image from Texas could be a Leonardo sketch just as the Colorado River Delta #4 could be a Linnaeus botanical drawing.

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: Edward Burtynsky, "Kumbh Mela #2, Allahabad, India" 2013

People do appear in images of the Kumbh Mela festival in India and the Benidorm beach front in Spain – but only en mass. Perhaps to bring in more of a human scale, there is a companion show, Water Everywhere, of nine images in the Transition Gallery. Although some of these photographs take a far off view (Cartier-Bresson’s Ile de la Cite), the majority bring the human figure to the fore, from Clarence White’s The Sea (1909) through Munkasci, Evans, Steichen, to a grainy Arbus Coney Island photo and a dark image from Smith’s Minimata series.

More photos from Burtynsky’s Water series appear in a concurrent exhibit at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea. As is becoming prevalent with many exhibits, there is also a companion book. To fully appreciate these images, however, they really need to be seen at the sizes exhibited. Perhaps the companion documentary, Watermark, viewed on a large screen would do these images justice.

Edward Burtynsky

Howard Greenberg
41 E 57th St. 14th Fl
Midtown         Map

212 334 0010

Wednesday, September 18 to
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Hours: Tues - Sat, 10 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat