“Water” by Edward Burtynsky at NOMA -> CAC, New Orleans

by Paul Laster

 Edward Burtynsky, Thjorsá River #1, Iceland 2012. © Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York.

Without water mankind could not exist. The world’s most vital natural resource seems to be everywhere, but over the past century man has harnessed it for energy and redirected it for agriculture and industrial expansion—seriously disrupting Earth’s natural ecosystems. 

After tackling such powerful environmental issues as the irreversible impact of exploitive mining, the rapid industrial growth of China, and our devastating dependence on oil, photographer Edward Burtynsky spent five years researching and documenting water—from mountainous sources and creative and spiritual uses of the precious liquid to our astronomical manipulation of it.

One of the most widely collected photographers working today, Burtynsky makes gorgeous pictures that convey some of the worst aspects about the world we inhabit. His double exhibition in New Orleans offers more than 60 large-scale color photographs organized by such water-related topics as distress, control, agriculture, aquaculture, waterfront, and source.

Exploring the relationship between art and the environment, Burtynsky researched the sites in advance online, which enabled he and his crew to predetermine what would be needed to make the photograph, as well as the potential outcome. Venturing up to 10,000 feet above his subjects, Burtynsky used airplanes, helicopters, pneumatic poles, lifts, and portable drones to get striking points of view.

Distress is represented by such images as Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; Phosphorous Mining in Polk County, Florida; and Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station, Baja, Mexico, which captures aquamarine geothermal brine water in the lake from an aerial vantage point.

Edward Burtynsky, Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station, Baja, Mexico 2012. © Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York.

Control depicts Dams in China; Windmills in the Netherlands; Stepwells in Northeastern India; and Housing Development, Phoenix, Arizona that borders a Navajo Reservation—seemingly drawing a line in the sand that shows where all of the water resources are being used.

Edward Burtynsky, Suburb, Phoenix, Arizona, USA 2011. © Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York.

The Agriculture section shows Irrigated Farms in the Imperial Valley in California; Dryland Farming in Monegros, Spain, and Pivot Irrigation in the Texas Panhandle, among other examples. Pivot plots are watered by an extended arm that rotates around a central point to make giant circles, which are visible from outer space.

Edward Burtynsky, Pivot Irrigation #11, High Plains, Texas Panhandle, USA 2011. © Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York.

The part on Aquaculture captures such sites as Rice Terraces in Yunnan Province, China; Industrial Fish Farms in Cadiz, Spain; Solar Salterns in the Gulf of California in Sonora, Mexico; and Marine Aquaculture, Fujian Province, China, a vast floating community.

 Edward Burtynsky, Marine Aquaculture #1, Luoyuan Bay, Fujian Province, China 2012. © Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York.

Waterfront is represented by images of Kumbh Mela, the annual Hindu pilgrimage where millions of people bath in the sacred Ganges; aerial views of the islands and canals in Naples, Florida; and Benidorm, Spain, a massive tourist destination where some six million Brits vacation each year. And, finally, Source takes us to the snow capped mountain peaks of British Columbia, Canada, and the riverbeds of Spain, and the glaciers of Iceland.

Edward Burtynsky, Benidorm #2, Spain 2010. © Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York.

“While trying to accommodate the growing needs of an expanding—and very thirsty—civilization, we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways,” states Burtynsky. “We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it. My hope is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival, something we often take for granted—until it’s gone.”

Edward Burtynsky: Water, which is accompanied by a comprehensive coffee table book published by Steidl, is on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans through January 19, 2014.

 

 

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