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Edward Burtynsky

Whenever I get to travel, I would check out if there are any interesting photography exhibitions in the local arts listings when I arrive.  When I was in Hong Kong this past week, I was quite happy to find out that Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky was having an exhibition at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery from September 21 to October  23, 2010.  I had initially come across his work when he won the 2005 TED prize and then subsequently when I watched a documentary film featuring him titled “Manufactured Landscapes: Edward Burtynsky“.

His work mainly deals with humanity’s impact on the planet.  In his artist statement on his website, he states the following:

Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.

Having seen his work in his books, the internet and on video, I kind of knew what to expect when I visited the exhibition, but that did not prepare me for the large beautiful detailed prints displayed on the walls of the gallery!  To me, there is a huge distinction between seeing soft copies of photographs online/on computer, photographs in books, actual photographic prints and finally actual photographic prints framed up and displayed in an exhibition setting.  I feel viewing exhibition prints have the largest impact.

If you are in Hong Kong, do try to visit the exhibition before it ends.  If not, check out his work on his website as well as the two videos available on the TED website (Edward Burtynsky on manufactured landscapes and Edward Burtynsky photographs the landscape of oil) which are both highly recommended!  There are also two film screenings (26 and 30 October) of “Manufactured Landscapes: Edward Burtynsky” as part of the 2010 Singapore International Photography Festival.  If you have never watched this documentary, do purchase a ticket whilst stocks last.  Powerful stuff!