Edward Burtynsky: Water

The global photo series explores human interaction with the molecule of life from multiple perspectives


The importance of water in our lives and the development of civilization cannot be overstated. In his new series “Water,” prolific large-format photographer Edward Burtynsky explores the ways in which industry and people shape it in the natural environment. The Canadian artist is known for capturing human interaction with the environment—from his series on the impact of quarries on landscapes, to the effect of rapid industrialization in China—in a way that is both artistic and suggests a measure of environmentalist exposé.


Burtynsky’s newest series examines the ways in which our global thirst for water is influencing the Earth’s natural landscape. While water as a drinking source is a major issue, the series takes into account a range of uses for water—including seeking spiritual purity in the Ganges and cooling a geothermal power plant in rural Mexico. Burtynsky’s work manages to captivate the viewer in a way few landscape images can; his composition of natural forms renders them almost as abstract paintings—with the pattern of silt in a river delta appearing both bewitching yet glaringly guided by human intention. This is perhaps the strong suit of his body of work: making viewers come to terms with the human impact on the natural environment while presenting it in stunning, dramatic beauty.


Burtynsky himself is not shy of his environmental leanings: “In this new and powerful role over the planet, we are also capable of engineering our own demise,” he says of the series. Water scarcity and quality is an issue of concern throughout much of the world and will only continue to come into sharper focus as the planet’s population continues to grow. Burtynsky manages to capture a diversity of both places and water issues—from Iceland to India—in his signature large format detail-rich style.

“Water” is on display at the Howard Greenberg Gallery and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery beginning with a preview today, 18 September, and officially tomorrow, 19 September, through 2 November 2013 in New York, as well as other international locations such as London, Toronto and Cologne. To accompany the series, Burtynsky collaborated with award-winning filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier on “Watermark,” a documentary that delves into global water issues with awe-inspiring visuals and compelling human stories, transporting the viewer through ten different countries. If you can’t make it to any of Burtynsky’s showings or screenings in person, check out his beautifully presented book on the series here.

Images by Hans Aschim