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Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery

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Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery

For several decades, photographer Edward Burtynsky has explored the relationship between human activity and the environment. From a broad viewpoint and macro perspective that incorporates aerial photography and vast landscape imagery, his work offers a complex integration of artistic beauty and social commentary.

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Photo by Anders Jones

In Burtynsky’s current exhibition, Essential Elements, at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, chromogenic color prints ranging from 27”x34” to 80”x60” dating as far back as 1988 are part of a larger body of work that also includes an award winning feature-length documentary film on the topic of water, titled, Watermark (2013).

The global array of imagery on view reflects locations from Arizona and Ontario to Australia and India, and addresses water, quarries, oil, and most recently, a 2016 series of images on a remote salt producing region in Gujuarat, India.

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Edward Burtynsky, Colorado River Delta #4, Sonora, Mexico / Photo by Anders Jones

Much of the work features striking macro views of landscapes. Burtynsky’s use of formal qualities, such as line, composition and texture, often create an overall abstract painterly or geometric quality in the work. In the image, Salinas #2, Cadiz, Spain, a gorgeous palette of earthy tones creates a startling aerial landscape photograph of water. Capturing a grid-like curvature of waterways, the image seems to question whether or not the hand of a human being was involved in the water’s breathtaking design; something that can only be fully appreciated from above.

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Edward Burtynsky, Salinas #2, Cadiz, Spain / Photo by Anders Jones

For an image that clearly speaks of people, Burtynsky elegantly captures an image of hundreds of motorcycles parked outside of a rock-n-roll concert. When viewed at a distance, the photograph, titled Kiss Concert Parking Area, Sturgis, South Dakota, uses line, repetition, composition, and a muted color palette with pops of orange, to create an abstract formal photograph. Upon closer examination, the image presents a slight swirl of perfectly aligned parked motorcycles, the minimal scattering of humans, and the majestic lone rupture of a mountain ridge in the background. Overall, the work seems to offer an enjoyable and somewhat amusing counterpoint to what viewers would most likely imagine as a raucous experience.

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Edward Burtynsky, Kiss Concert Parking Area, Sturgis, South Dakota / Photo by Anders Jones 

Burtynsky’s ability to move between landscapes and industrial-related imagery, while simultaneously creating one visual language through formal qualities, is most evident in the sense of movement in his compositions. Whether circular shapes, flowing pipes, labyrinths of water, striking architecture or flashes of light, the constant flow of change and activity central to human existence and nature is always at play. Without being overbearing, Burtynsky also seems to gently encourage contemplation of the social implications of how humans interact with natural resources, through his choice of a subdued, natural-feeling color palette–a choice that does not erase the vulnerability of the earth through an artificial, hyper-saturated color field prominent in commercial nature photography today.

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Edward Burtynsky, Colorado River Delta #12, Sonora, Mexico / Photo by Anders Jones

Essential Elements will be on display at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery until December 23, 2016.

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