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Understanding Water Through Photography: Edward Burtynsky

1203 words - 5 pages

Edward Burtynsky’s evocative collection Water was an intention to explore both the natural conditions of water on our planet and the human uses to which it has been put. (Meyers 2013.) The series of photographs in Water show us new perspectives by which we can view human impact. Burtynsky frames his composition so uniquely and so intentionally, that in one photograph he is able to awaken sensibilities in a viewer, and with a single collection of photographs he can initiate a conversation surrounding the thoughtless actions we preform among or against the waters and wonders of our earth.
"I wanted to understand water: what it is, and what it leaves behind when we're gone. I wanted to ...view middle of the document...

So subtle is the author’s message, and yet so purposefully crafted is the collection at guiding the viewer’s consciousness and curiosity.

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation / Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, 2011
Of all the pieces in the series Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation / Scottsdale stands out a striking and intentional piece demonstrating the extent to which humanity has attempted to control and subvert the earth, section off and alter it to our will. The diagonal lines coming from the left of the frame are intersected so starkly and intentionally we as the viewer feel a strong reaction to the composition which aids the formulation of ideas about the why and the how, as well as the what. There is quick literally a line in the sand as to where water is distributed and where it is not. Houses upon houses with pools in yards and green lawns and hedges are so starkly contrasted against what seems to be ominously creeping sands of an abandoned wild. It could be argued that civilization is depicted as a simple ignorant civilization, blissful in there ordered world, the connotation is not a positive one. As a viewer we are forced to question the ludicrous of this line in the sand, the crowed rows of homes against the vast expanse of abandoned spaces.
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation / Scottsdale like others in the collection is a thoughtful and carefully laid construct of Burtynsky’s provoking important questions about nature in which we live and treat our earth and waters.

In Ölfusá River #1, Iceland, 201, Burtynsky reminds us of nature’s beauty in the historically serene landscape. Water is represented as unfettered and unspoiled beauty, as an image on its own its beauty is mentionable but hardly in line with the direction of the series. This piece fits however because it reminds the viewer of the inherent and innate nature of water, its innate ability and wonders. It serves as a constant to the equation, a reminder of what the untainted can look like, it brings the conversation the series compels us to have full circle, giving the viewer a break from the heaps of reality about what we are doing to the earth, to what we should be attempting instead to preserve in the earth. Untouched pristine landscape still has relevance in Burtynsky’s work, it serves its role without being beauty for just beauty’s sake.

Xiaolangdi Dam #1, Yellow River, Henan Province, China, 2011 examines what Burtynsky calls “large-scale incursions imposed upon the...

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