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Edward Burtynsky shares the stories behind his giant new photographs of dams, wells and other drippy things

Rice terraces in Western Yunnan Province, China, 2012

(Image: © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz, New York)

Edward Burtynsky: Water 
Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King St. W.
To October 12

For Edward Burtynsky, bigger is always better. The Toronto photographer has shot vast Carrara quarries in Italy, collapsing factory ruins in China and cavernous mines in Australia. For his gallery shows, he blows up his photos as large as the Bayeux Tapestry, magnifying each speck, crag and shadow. It’s an approach that’s earned him international stardom—his photos hang in the Tate, the MoMA and the Guggenheim, and sell for as much as $40,000 apiece.

Water, Burtynsky’s latest exhibition, is his largest—and his most ideological. It focuses on the ways in which people around the world have manipulated water to feed the earth’s mushrooming population. He spent five years travelling in 10 countries, where he shot 24,000 images. This month, he’ll release the photographs in a book and display the series at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery on King West. After that, the show will travel to New York, London, San Francisco and Singapore.

The scale of the photos makes the world seem strange and unknowable. Chinese farmland evokes the psychedelic slopes of a Lawren Harris painting. Drained Indian stepwells resemble hand-painted tiles. And a dam on the Yangtze River looks like a towering steampunk fortress.

We asked Burtynsky to tell us the story behind our favourite shots.