Canadian Photographer Edward Burtynsky: Anthropocene

December 3, 2018 | Muriel

Comments (4)


"If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves"

                                                                                           - Edward Burtynsky


One of my favourite artists is award-winning Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. His introduction to photography began at 11 when his father bought a darkroom and cameras from an amateur photographer's widow. Since then Edward Burtynsky has been photographing the environment, and now on a grand scale, humans' impact on the environment. His photography is included in over sixty major museums around the world, including The Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and Tate Modern in London. Edward Burtynsky is a collaborator on The Anthropocene Project, a multidisciplinary body of work which is comprised of a film, book and simultaneous exhibitions at both the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada. The Anthropocene was a word new to me, and it is defined by The Anthropocene Project as:

Anthropocene - The proposed current geological epoch, in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change.

I went to see the Anthropocene exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (you can go to the gallery for free with a Museum + Arts Pass). It is stunning, and sobering, to see in Edward Burtynsky's monumental photographs, how much impact humans have had on the environment, whether by removing parts of the world through extraction, or by adding to it with built structures and waste disposal. I wanted to learn more about this project, and so I went to a very interesting artists' talk about the film with Edward Burtynsky and filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier (there is also a podcast interview you can listen to). All three artists have been inspired by the work of scientists, and each artist has their own unique perspective. Jennifer Baichwal said that she would like people to know what the Anthropocene is, cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier said that the film "toggles" between the wide and the particular, and Edward Burtynsky said that he sees the stills and the film functioning quite differently from each other, and becoming inflection points for dialogue. Edward Burtynsky also said that films have a way of permeating culture, and the resultant widespread raising of consciousness is the beginning of change.

You can participate in this change with Toronto Public Library's Our Fragile Planet, which offers free, engaging programs about our environment and how to green your world. There will also be a film viewing of Leonardo DiCaprio's Before the Flood at Eatonville library on December 27, 2018, about what life in the future might be like for your descendants.

Diverting waste from landfill is a really powerful way to help the planet. You can do this by bringing your electronics for safe disposal to the Inorganic Market at Annette Street Library on January 26, 2019, and also by repairing your items and learning a new skill at the same time, at a Repair Café at one of Toronto Public Library's branches. 

Anthropocene Book


There are two films which have changed my life, and one of them is Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal's Genie Award-winning Manufactured Landscapes. The film follows Edward Burtynsky to China, where he photographs humans' impact on the environment there. The other film is Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, a Hopi word for "life out of balance," and "a state of life that calls for another way of life." The film, set to Philip Glass' haunting music, begins with purely natural environments. Completely built environments, devoid of nature, are shown by the end of this prescient film. Both of these films made me realize that everything I do and purchase has an impact on the environment. 

If you are interested in making your own life-changing film, Toronto Public Library's Digital Innovation Hubs have free video editing software. You can also access, with your Toronto Public Library card, for free video tutorial courses on filmmaking and more.

Burtynsky Manufactured Landscapes DVD    Koyaanisqatsi


Water, vital for all known forms of life, was the subject of the next collaboration by Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal after Manufactured Landscapes. In Watermark, they explored the ways that humanity has shaped, manipulated and depleted this essential resource. Edward Burtynsky's magnificent photographs in Water portray water from its remote sources to humans' use of it to alter the landscape, to the infrastructure of water management. In the future, we will hopefully preserve this precious finite resource, and in the process preserve ourselves.

Burtynsky Watermark DVD    Burtynsky Water Book