Earlier this year, I resolved to attenuate my superlatives. You know… everything is “awesome”, “terrific”, “greatest”, etc. Well, I gotta suspend that modus operandi for just one post so I can tell you about Edward Burtynsky’s show “Infinite Change” on now at KWAG and the talk given last night by the man himself.
My hair is blown back and my brain is still crackling as I can’t stop thinking about: the work, the talk, the fact that this giant Burtynsky collection second-only-in-size-to-National-Gallery-of-Canada is now in the permanent collection of our Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery right here in Waterloo Region. This is a big deal. A huge deal.
Interlude: if you dig my community-building work through these stories, please support it with your pocket change. Shout out to my patrons who get what I’m doing.
The TL;DR: go see this show right away. If you missed the talk last night, I can’t help you (I tried on Thu, but you gotta believe me when I put this stuff on facebook/twitter/coffee shop), but you will definitely want to see the work, which now lives here. Like us.
The gallery was happily jammed with hard-core fans (there’s my friend Nik, bottom right, who described himself as a Burtynsky fanboy and brought along a book of Ed’s work in hopes of getting an autograph).
I didn’t know what to expect in the talk. What we got was a most succinct walk-through of Ed’s path in his work/life that I found completely inspiring as a photographer and human. Particularly appealing is his utter lack of pretense and down-to-earth, super-chill comportment. From an early start in photography when his father purchased an entire darkroom setup and installed it in their St. Catharine’s basement, to his studies at Ryerson and then a serendipitous wrong turn and epiphany in Pennsylvania that revealed “manufactured landscapes” in coal mining country; Ed’s course seems fueled by curiosity. You can read wikipedia to learn that he founded Toronto Image Works, was inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada, is an integral part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, and more.
Most interesting to me were his thoughts around the human condition and our impact on the planet. He wasn’t soapboxing; just offering images of what is. He talked of a moment on a 4-month cross-continent photo journey, when stopped at a gas station he realized everything from his plastic raincoat to the fuel in his car comes from oil. The origins of that oil were opaque to him. He started tugging on that thread back in the ‘80’s and 30 years later he observes that we can’t have this (the comfort-filled conveniences of modern life) without that (the horror of, for example, a plastic dump in China). He noted that “inverted pyramids” created by quarrying stone deep into the earth in Italy are what turn into our kitchen countertops here. The insatiable extraction of copper from a vast mine in Chile is rooted in our cycling of smartphones every 18 months. He talked about the mechanical advantage of the internal combustion engine facilitating change of our planet on a scale not seen since a giant meteor slammed into the Gulf of Mexico, wiping out about 70% of life. Ed noted that, beyond oil, he discovered in his series on water that every major river in the world is now dammed. That causes dustbowls in old riverbeds, lifting heavy metals from their bottoms and floating it in the air across Los Angeles. He discovered that the Ogallala Aquifer beneath North America, one of the world’s largest, has been depleted of water from ten Lake Erie’s worth to only seven.
When I type all this, it reads like a mission, meant to convince you of something. But the way Burtynsky put it across was more along the lines of sober reflection, reminiscent of Noam Chomsky describing global politics and conflict. You had to be there.
Click through for more pics…