"We took what we needed from the Earth and this is what we left behind. That is the informational layer of my work, but there is also a political layer and an autobiographical one."
Edward Burtynsky produces large-scale, richly-coloured prints of exquisite and breathtaking detail. He has become well-known for his documentation of industrial sites across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. He reveals the disturbingly sublime landscapes created through plunder of the earth and through these images raises environmental and ethical questions regarding the alteration of the landscape. For Burtynsky, refineries, quarries, oil fields and recycling plants are monuments of civilization, records of human activity and markers of history. They become the ruins of modern times.
Burtynsky grew up in St. Catharine's, Ontario, where his activities as a photographer began when he was 11 years old and set up a darkroom in his parents' basement. In the early 1980s, he earned a B.A. in Photography and Media Studies from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, and worked as a miner and on the assembly lines of Ford and General Motors. For a decade he photographed quarries, abandoned and active, in Ontario, Quebec, Vermont and Italy, most often using an 8" x 10" view camera. The 1996 series Tailings documents the red-hot flowing rivers of nickel production waste that cut through the landscape of Sudbury, Ontario. In 1997 he turned his interest to recording waste in Toronto and Hamilton scrap yards where garbage was being crushed and bundled for recycling. Burtynsky has also done a series on tire scrap yards, producing large format works that monumentalize the enormous scale of human consumption of natural resources. Through his work, the artist hopes to captivate the viewer with images of industrialization that draw attention to the troubling aspects of progress.
Burtynsky founded and directs Toronto Image Works, a darkroom rental facility, custom photographic, digital imaging lab and gallery. While he continues to live in and work around Toronto, his photographic projects take him many other parts of the world in search of industrial landscapes.
In 2004, Burtynsky won the Roloff Beny Photography Book Award for his self-published book Before the Flood, about China's Three Gorges Dam project. He was also one of three, along with famed rock star and global activist, Bono, to win the inaugural TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Prize 2004. Winners of the TED Prize are given the opportunity to fulfill three wishes of global significance by teaming with major companies.