Edward Burtynsky, a world renown Canadian photographer, has made it his life's work to photograph landscapes throughout the world in an effort to catalog the destruction wrought upon the earth by large industry. The rape and pillage of terra firma is captured in exquisite detail by the large format camera wielded by Mr. Burtynsky and the carnage is brilliantly displayed for all to see. Favored scenes may include quarries, mines, scrap piles, shipyards and Chinese manufacturing facilities. All are crime scenes that depict the injuries thoughtlessly (and in some cases purposefully) inflicted upon our planet and that are left to fester in the sun with painful consequences for us all. Burtynsky has also surmised, however, that the land has the ability to heal itself and, given time, will do so.
Iberia Quarries #8 © Edward Burtynsky

In an earlier interview, that can be found in the Residual Landscapes: Studies of Industrial Transfiguration, Mr. Burtynsky describes his original motivation for his photographic images as such:

"The concept of the landscape as architecture has become, for me, an act of imagination. I remember looking at buildings made of stone, and thinking, there has to be an interesting landscape somewhere out there because these stones had to have been taken out of the quarry one block at a time. I had never seen a dimensional quarry, but I envisioned an inverted cubed architecture on the side of a hill."
As he pursued his desire to find that illusive dimensional quarry, he came to recognize that there should be more to his act of discovery than simply locating that missing puzzle piece. He found that there was also a social and environmental issue that needed to be addressed, that being the effects of our "throw-away" society upon the well-being of planet earth and its inhabitants.

Edward Burtynsky Highway #1, Los Angeles, California, USA 2003 © Edward Burtynsky Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery & Hasted Hunt Kraeutler New York

From this conclusion, Burtynsky began his quest to deftly capture images of the many "man-altered" landscapes that are strewn across the face of our planet in an attempt to portray man's progress and the sizeable cost of this accomplishment. His photos are also simultaneously a vision of beauty and a source of revulsion for many viewers as they survey what mankind has collectively done to this planet and to one's self. The maze of concrete and iron that snakes through the city, shown in the image to the left, has all but blotted out the face of the earth below; however, Burtynsky has also captured the beauty that lies within this hazardous amalgam of man-made materials. His sensitivity for such esthetics is uncanny and controversial.
Burtynsky was not always a social and environmental activist, however. In the early sixties he began his photographic odyssey in his father's photography studio in Canada. Later on in the early seventies, Burtynsky began to make a living doing portraits in the local Ukrainian Center of his home town. From there, he began to pursue a formal education in graphic arts and photography at Niagara College in Welland, Ontario, in 1976.

Rock of Ages #4 - Quarry at Vermont © Edward Burtynsky

Upon his graduation is where Burtynsky first launched his quest to create social awareness of the altered landscapes that mankind leaves in its wake. From this point on, he repeatedly scoured the planet for scenes of pollution and captured the pillage on 4x5 film. His favorite landscapes are those that are not necessarily within easy reach of the common man such as quarries and abandoned mines, nickel tailing ponds and dismantled oil tankers.
Rock of Ages #15 - Quarry at Vermont © Edward Burtynsky

Although the pockmarks left by industrial rampages are temporarily visible to all, the earth's ability to heal is a strong force of nature that enables her to slowly recover from these injuries with the passing of time. It is this ability to mend the effects of the many insults inflicted upon the planet that Burtynsky targets with his efforts. He focuses strong light upon the mindless destruction, but at the same time offers hope in the form of beauty that can be found as the phoenix shakes the dust from her wings and rises from the ashes.

Old Factories #9 - Abandoned factory in China © Edward Burtynsky

(by Carolyn Ascher)

Burtynsky, Edward. Edward Burtynsky - Quarries : the quarry photographs of Edward Burtynsky / Edward Burtynsky; with essays by Michael Mitchell. London: Thames & Hudson. 2007.

Callahan, Sean. "Multiple Viewpoints." Smithsonian 33 (2002): 93.

Diehl, Carol. "The Toxic Sublime." Art in America 94 (2006): 118-123.

Schwartz, Joan M. "Photographic Reflections: Nature, Landscape and Environment." Environmental History 12 (2007): 966-993.